Hawaii agrees to settle youth climate change lawsuit


(Reuters) – Hawaii on Thursday agreed to settle a lawsuit by 13 young people alleging the U.S. state was violating their rights under its constitution by operating a transportation system that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Democratic Governor Josh Green announced the settlement at a press conference attended by some of the youth activists and lawyers involved in the lawsuit, which they called the first-ever youth-led climate case seeking zero emissions in transportation.

The case was set to go to trial on Monday. It would have been the second-ever trial in the U.S. of a lawsuit by young people who claim their futures and health are jeopardized by climate change and that a state’s actions violated their rights.

Under the settlement, Hawaii has agreed to develop a holistic roadmap to achieve zero carbon emissions in its transportation system by 2045 and give young people a seat at the table through a volunteer youth council, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said.

“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 case is one of several by young environmental activists in the United States that broadly accuse governments of exacerbating climate change through policies that encourage or allow the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

The young people, represented by the nonprofit law firm Our Children’s Trust, claim the policies violate their rights under U.S. or state constitutions.

The cases have raised novel legal claims and have been dismissed by several courts saying that the judiciary could not mandate broad policy changes that are best left to lawmakers and the executive branch.

But the young activists scored a major victory last year when the first such case went to trial in Montana.

In that case, a Montana judge concluded that the Republican-led state’s policies prohibiting regulators from considering the impacts on climate change when approving fossil fuel projects violate the rights of young people.

The lawsuit against Hawaii was filed in 2022 and alleged that the state Department of Transportation was operating a transportation system that ran afoul of state constitutional mandates and impaired their right to a life-sustaining climate.

The plaintiffs, who were 9 to 18 when the case was first filed, said that despite Hawaii being a leader among states in acknowledging the dangers of climate change, it was projected to fall significantly short of its own goal of net-negative carbon emissions by 2045.

The lawsuit argued that the state was not only failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector but was “heading in the opposite direction,” citing investments in infrastructure like highways as running counter to its goals.

The youth argued that as a result, the state was violating a right guaranteed by the Hawaii Constitution to a clean and healthful environment and its constitutional duty to “conserve and protect Hawaii’s natural beauty and all natural resources.”

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Sandra Maler and Diane Craft)

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