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Hawaii agrees to settle youth climate change lawsuit

June 21, 2024

Young activists claimed that Hawaii violates their constitutional rights by operating a transportation system that contributes to climate change.

People wait with their luggage at the Maui airport in Kahului, Hawaii
As part of the settlement, Hawaii committed to improving public transportation.Image: Claire Rush/AP Photo/picture alliance

Hawaii agreed Thursday to settle a lawsuit filed by 13 young people who claimed the US state violated their constitutional rights by operating a transportation system that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The activists called their lawsuit the first youth-led climate lawsuit to seek zero-emissions transportation. Democratic Governor Josh Green called the settlement "groundbreaking."

The case had been scheduled for trial on Monday. It would have been the second case in the United States brought by young people who say their future and health are threatened by climate change and that a state's actions violate their rights.

What will the state do?

Under this agreement, Hawaii will develop a detailed plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from surface, marine, and interisland aviation transportation by 2045.

"We're addressing the impact of climate change today, and needless to say this is a priority because climate change is here," Green said.

The state Department of Transportation will revamp its planning processes for ground transportation projects and accelerate efforts to expand a public electric vehicle charging network and improve public transit networks, officials said.

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How did the activists react?

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Navahine F., said: "I am so proud of all the hard work to get us 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."

Leina'ala Ley, a lawyer for the youth activists at Earthjustice, said the "agreement gives Hawaii a boost in our race against climate disaster and offers a model of best practices that other jurisdictions can also implement."

dh/sms (Reuters, State of Hawaii)