Historic youth climate rights case has first hearing in Hawaiʻi
Youth plaintiffs and their attorneys in the constitutional climate case Navahine F. v. Hawai‘i Department of Transportation appeared today at the First Circuit Environmental Court in Honolulu to argue the youths’ position on why the case should be permitted to move forward.
The youth plaintiffs contend that the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation operates a transportation system that emits high levels of greenhouse gasses, violating their state constitutional rights, causing them significant harm and impacting their ability to “live healthful lives in Hawai‘i now and into the future,” according to the state constitution.
The lawsuit claims that while Hawai‘i is recognized as a leader in state-level climate action, the department of transportation has missed every interim benchmark to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions since 2008. Transportation emissions are already the largest source of climate pollution in the state and are expected to rise 41% over the next decade.
The youth plaintiffs are seeking to hold the transportation department accountable to ensure they meet the state’s goal to decarbonize Hawai‘i’s transportation sector and achieve a zero emissions economy by 2045.
More than 100 supporters of the youth plaintiffs packed the courtroom and a nearby overflow room, while nearly 150 more watched the proceedings online via Zoom, according to a joint press release from Our Childrenʻs Trust and Earthjustice.
Supporters in Honolulu joined the youth plaintiffs at a post-hearing press conference in front of the courthouse, gathering to sing songs and listen to the attorneys and young plaintiffs describe the hearing.
“Essentially, you saw the State of Hawai‘i and its lawyers argue that climate change is a problem that can be dealt with 20 years from now with no accountability today,” said Andrea Rodgers, Senior Litigation Attorney at Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs. “This is an existential crisis that needs the court’s involvement now. The legislature has been very clear in recognizing that.
“The state government wants to close the courthouse doors on these young people so they cannot explain how climate change is harming them today and threatening their lives in Hawaiʻi today and into the future.”
“The department of transportation is driving Hawaiʻi off the climate cliff because it refuses to take seriously its constitutional obligations to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Leinā‘ala L. Ley, Senior Associate Attorney in Earthjustice’s Mid-Pacific Office, and co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs.
Kalā, one of the youth plaintiffs, stated: “We are here today to hold the state government accountable for their errors. We are here today to be the voice for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. The state has known for a very long time about the realities of the climate crisis. We have seen governors give speeches. We have not yet seen action from the executive branch. We need action.”
The youth plaintiffs are represented by Andrea Rodgers, Kimberly Willis and Joanna Zeigler with Our Children’s Trust, and Isaac Moriwake and Leināʻala L. Ley of Earthjustice. This is one of several youth-led constitutional climate lawsuits brought by Our Children’s Trust with local counsel like Earthjustice’s Mid-Pacific Office.
The case was argued before the Honorable Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree.