A Historic Settlement

On June 20, 2024, Navahine v. Hawai‘i Department of Transportation made history as the first constitutional youth-led climate case focused on decarbonizing transportation to reach a settlement agreement. Hawai‘i Governor Josh Green and Department of Transportation Director Edwin Sniffen joined the 13 youth plaintiffs at a joint press conference to announce this groundbreaking settlement agreement to decarbonize the state’s transportation system. The only one like it in the world.

When young peoples’ rights are violated, it is the court’s job to listen and act.

On August 22, 2022, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss Navahine, arguing the Court lacked the power to hear and decide the youth plaintiffs’ constitutional claims. In April 2023, Judge Crabtree denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss in its entirety.

The case was set for trial June 24 – July 12, 2024, and was passed to Judge Tonaki because Judge Crabtree reached the threshold for mandatory retirement. After months of discovery and trial preparation, that included defendants’ depositions of 13 plaintiffs, submission of 15 expert and rebuttal reports prepared by youth plaintiffs’ renowned team of ten pro bono experts, and the exchange of 215,800 pages of documents, the parties entered into a second successful round of settlement agreement negotiations just weeks before trial was set to begin.

The Settlement Agreement would not have been possible without the plaintiffs’ experts’ reports and deposition testimony, the plaintiffs sitting for deposition, the local work of our partners, and a deep commitment and support from HDOT Director Ed Sniffen, Deputy Attorney General Ciara Kahahane, and Hawaiʻi’s Attorney General Anne Lopez.

Hawaiʻi’s leadership heard youth voices, and responded, backed by the judiciary. We can and must work together with all three branches of government to uphold and protect the rights of young people—and all future generations in Hawaiʻi—to a safe and healthy climate future.

The Settlement Agreement in Navahine v. HDOT confirms that youth have constitutional rights to a clean and healthful environment and that the state of Hawaiʻi has an obligation to protect youth’s interest in a stable climate.

The state’s constitutional public trust obligation is to conserve and protect “Hawaiʻi’s natural beauty and all natural resources, including land, water, air, minerals and energy sources” “[f]or the benefit of present and future generations.” The Department of Transportation, in establishing, maintaining, and operating the state transportation system, must preserve, protect, and maintain Hawaiʻi’s public trust resources and all Hawaiʻi citizens’ rights to a clean and healthful environment.

In the Settlement Agreement, the State is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from its statewide transportation system according to “the best scientific evidence today,” as determined by experts. This evidence shows that correcting Earth’s energy imbalance requires reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide to less than 350 parts per million this century.

Details of the Settlement Agreement

The Navahine Settlement Agreement is unparalleled in its nature, scope, and duration, providing a step-by-step plan for the next 20 years of climate action by the state of Hawaiʻi. It demonstrates the importance of a collaborative mindset and mission alignment among all interested parties and throughout government, as whole. It will serve as a leadership model for states and countries around the world to address one of the most important sectors driving the climate crisis–transportation.

In the Settlement Agreement, defendants have agreed to take all actions necessary to achieve Zero Emissions no later than 2045 for ground, sea, and interisland air transportation, including:

Establishing a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan

Within one year of the Settlement Agreement, the parties will lay the foundation and roadmap to fully decarbonize Hawaiʻi’s transportation system within the next 20 years offering a replicable model for transportation systems around the world.

Not only does the Settlement Agreement require the State of Hawaiʻi to achieve its GHG emission reduction goals on a timeline required by state law, but it also requires the development of a plan that has very specific policies and measures that will be implemented to do so.

Reforming the Department of Transportation’s budgeting and programming to prioritize the decarbonization of transportation

This means making immediate, ambitious investments in clean transportation infrastructure, including completing the pedestrian, bicycle, and transit networks in five years, and dedicating a minimum of $40 million to expand the public electric vehicle charging network by 2030.

Creating new leadership positions

Two new positions will be created responsible for developing a plan and ensuring new policies are implemented.

This includes a Climate Change Mitigation and Culture Manager who will integrate and coordinate GHG reduction throughout HDOT. Additionally, these positions will oversee HDOT highways climate change mitigation and adaptation at the program level, and lead and coordinate efforts to ensure implementation of the Complete Streets policy.

Providing youth with a seat 
at the table

The Settlement Agreement requires HDOT to keep Navahine plaintiffs informed, providing them with opportunities to provide feedback and input into shaping policies, it establishes a volunteer Youth Council to advise on HDOT’s commitments in the years to come.

Youth plaintiffs must be given 30 days to review and provide feedback on the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan before its finalization and provided with annual updates on the government’s progress in implementing the plan and achieving GHG emissions reduction targets, with opportunities to provide comments and feedback through their counsel, throughout.

Continuing jurisdiction

This is one of the most important aspects of the agreement. With the Court agreeing to accept continuing jurisdiction, if there are any challenges along the road, the Court will be able to step in and ensure the agreement is enforced through 2045.