Hawaii Youths Secure $40 Million Settlement In Climate Change Case

Thirteen young Hawaiians — and their handlers — have achieved a scary precedent in the form of a $40 million settlement from the state that claims the Hawaii Department of Transportation (DOT) neglected their rights by insufficiently addressing greenhouse gas emissions. This settlement, one of the first of its kind, obliges the state to devise a comprehensive plan to decarbonize travel by 2045, encompassing ground, sea, and interisland air travel.

The case, Navahine v. Hawai’i Department of Transportation, challenged the DOT’s focus on highway construction over public transit and electric vehicle infrastructure. Under the settlement, the state must also develop a pedestrian, bicycle, and transit network within five years and invest at least $40 million to enhance the public electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure by 2030.

Hawaiian politicians commended the plaintiffs for their achievement. Gov. Josh Green praised the youths, stating, “You have a constitutional right to fight for life-sustaining climate policy, and you have mobilized our people. You’re the first in the country to succeed, and I hope others will follow your lead.”

State Senator Mike Gabbard, who previously taught high school, was thrilled by the youths’ proactive stance. “They’re leading the way instead of sitting back and complaining,” Gabbard remarked in a recent interview.

If the case had gone to trial, it would have been the second youth climate lawsuit in the U.S. The first was a 2023 trial in Montana, where young plaintiffs, supported by Our Children’s Trust, won a decision that struck down laws barring agencies from considering the climate impact of fossil fuel projects.

Hawaii has been proactive in climate legislation, becoming the first state to declare a climate emergency in 2021. In 2018, it enacted laws aiming for carbon neutrality by 2045. This settlement not only underscores Hawaii’s leadership in climate action but also highlights the growing influence of youth-led environmental advocacy across the nation.