Updated: December 8, 2023
A judge has ruled in favor of Hawaiʻi youth plaintiffs in the climate case, Navahine F. v. Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation.
The case argues the state transportation system causes high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, violating the youth plaintiffs’ state constitutional rights and public trust doctrine.
The case will now proceed to a trial in September, becoming only the second constitutional climate trial, and second youth-led climate trial in US history.
The youth plaintiffs are seeking to hold HDOT accountable to ensure they meet the state’s goal to decarbonize Hawaiʻi’s transportation sector and achieve a zero emissions economy by 2045.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs presented their arguments before Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree at the Environmental Court of First Circuit.
Judge Crabtree in his decision noted that the “Plaintiffs are minors. Article XI, Section 1 [of the Hawaiʻi Constitution] is ‘For the benefit of present and future generations.’ Plaintiffs allege nothing less than that they stand to inherit a world with severe climate change and the resulting damage to our natural resources.” He said that “[s]ince Defendants essentially argue Hawaiʻi law does not require them to take action now, it appears a declaratory judgment action will help resolve the parties’ different views of what the Legislature and the Constitution require.”
Less than a month ago, in a different climate case over the Hu Honua biomass power plant, the Supreme Court of Hawai‘i upheld a decision to deny the plant’s operation due to its impact on climate change, ruling that a life-sustaining climate system is protected by the state constitution. Judge Crabtree relied on the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court’s opinion in the Navahine v Hawaiʻi DOT decision.
The youth plaintiffs were represented by Andrea Rodgers, Kimberly Willis, and Joanna Zeigler with Our Children’s Trust, and Isaac Moriwake and Leinā‘ala L. Ley of Earthjustice.