Hawai'i State News

Youth-led constitutional climate case settled with bold commitment from Hawaiʻi Transportation Department

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The world’s first youth-led constitutional climate case seeking to address climate pollution from the transportation sector was settled with a commitment from the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation to plan and implement transformative changes of the state’s transportation system to achieve net-negative emissions by 2045.

Photo courtesy of Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green’s office

Hawai‘i State Environmental Court Judge John Tonaki formally accepted the settlement Thursday morning in the Navahine v. Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation constitutional climate case, meaning a trial scheduled to begin June 24 will not proceed.

Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green joined youth plaintiffs in announcing the court-approved settlement agreement, which not only acknowledges the constitutional rights of Hawaiʻi’s youth to a life-sustaining climate, but confirms the state Transportation Department’s commitment.

“The passion demonstrated by these young people in advocating for a healthy, sustainable future for their generation and those to come is laudable,” said Green. “This settlement informs how we as a state can best move forward to achieve life-sustaining goals and further, we can surely expect to see these and other youth in Hawaiʻi continue to step up to build the type of future they desire.”

Thirteen youth from throughout the Hawaiian Islands brought the case in June 2022, asserting their rights to a safe and healthy climate and asking the Hawaiʻi state government to act to meet the climate emergency and enable the state’s paradigm shift to a climate-safe, zero-emissions transportation system.

Many of the Navahine plaintiffs are Native Hawaiian youth already experiencing climate change harm to their well-being and ability to perpetuate cultural practices.


The settlement is also the first of its kind, in which state government entities decided to work with youth plaintiffs to address concerns regarding constitutional issues arising from climate change and commit to implementing specific plans and programs designed to decarbonize a state transportation system and reduce greenhouse gas pollution and fossil fuel dependence.

In this case, Hawaiʻi Transportation Director Ed Sniffen took unprecedented leadership to negotiate a resolution and embrace the government’s kuleana (responsibility) to lead the way on bold and broad climate action.

“Climate change is indisputable,” said Sniffen. “Burying our heads in the sand and making it the next generation’s problem is not pono [righteous, correct]. In our agreement with Our Children’s Trust and Earthjustice, we’re committing to develop and use greenhouse gas emission measurements and reductions in vehicle miles traveled when we develop ground transportation projects and look for ways to translate that to our airports and harbors projects.”

All parties to the agreement herald a collaborative path forward.

“Today’s settlement shows that the state and [the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation] are truly committed to transformative action to reduce our transportation emissions before it’s too late,” said Leinā‘ala Ley, an attorney with Earthjustice and co-counsel representing the 13 youth plaintiffs. “This new partnership puts climate action in the fast lane towards a more just and equitable future.”


Of the settlement agreement, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Navahine F., said she is proud of all the hard work to get she and her fellow plaintiffs to this historic moment: “We got what we came for, and we got it faster than we expected. Mai kuhihewa young people have the power to make a difference for their futures.”

Photo courtesy of Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green’s office

Plaintiff Rylee Brooke K. added that being heard and moving forward in unity with the state to combat climate change is incredibly gratifying and empowering. She said the partnership marks a pivotal step toward preserving Hawaiʻi for future generations — one that will have a ripple effect on the world.

“I hope our case inspires youth to always use their voices to hold leaders accountable for the future they will inherit,” said the plaintiff.

The agreement sets forth a framework that further confirms Hawaiʻi’s position as one of the leading states in the nation in moving from a transportation system that depends on fossil fuels to a cleaner and safer system that supports a transition to vehicles that run on clean electricity or alternative fuels and gives people more choices to get around by walking, cycling/scootering and riding public transit.

This framework offers an exemplary and replicable model for decarbonizing transportation systems throughout the United States and around the world.


The agreement also includes numerous provisions for immediate and ongoing action steps by the state Transportation Department including:

  • Establishment of a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan within 1 year of the agreement, laying the foundation and roadmap to decarbonize Hawaiʻi’s transportation system within the next 20 years.
  • Creation of a lead unit and responsible positions within the state Transportation Department to coordinate the mission of greenhouse gas reduction throughout the agency, oversee climate change mitigation and adaptation for the highways program and ensure implementation of the Complete Streets policy of building and upgrading public highways for all users, ages and abilities.
  • Establishment of a volunteer youth council to advise on state Transportation Department mitigation and adaptation commitments in the years to come.
  • Improvements to the state transportation infrastructure budgeting process to prioritize reduction of greenhouse gases and vehicles miles traveled and transparently analyze and disclose the greenhouse gases and vehicle miles traveled impacts of each project and the overall program.
  • Immediate, ambitious investments in clean transportation infrastructure, such as completing the pedestrian, bicycle and transit networks in 5 years, and dedicating a minimum of $40 million to expanding the public electric vehicle charging network by 2030.

The parties agreed the court will maintain jurisdiction over the agreement for purposes of resolving any disputes relating to its implementation.

“Our courts are essential guardians of young peoples’ constitutional rights and empowered to protect the planet, but they rely on our collective engagement,” said Andrea Rodgers, deputy director for U.S. Strategy at Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for the Navahine plaintiffs. “The 13 youth plaintiffs in Navahine v. Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation activated the courts and achieved the first settlement agreement in a constitutional climate case, paving the way for systemic decarbonization of transportation. This historic agreement offers a holistic roadmap for states and countries to follow around the world.”

To watch a replay of Thursday’s historic announcement, click here.

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