About the Case

Navahine v. Hawai‘i Department of Transportation

Navahine v. Hawai’i Department of Transportation is the world’s first youth-led constitutional climate case directed at stopping climate pollution from transportation systems. On June 1, 2022, 13 young plaintiffs from across Hawai‘i filed their suit against the state and the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation (HDOT) for operating a transportation system that results in high levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 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.”

To successfully litigate this historic lawsuit, Our Children’s Trust joined forces with Hawai‘i’s premier public interest environmental law firm, Earthjustice. Together, we powered a youth-led, constitutional climate win, combining the vision of Hawai‘i’s forward-thinking constitution with the clarity of irrefutable climate science to defend the rights of Hawai‘i’s keiki and ‘ōpio to a livable climate.

Youth in Hawai’i are on the front lines of the climate crisis.

It is a current crisis, and the children of Hawai’i are living on the front lines 
of climate disasters like sea level rise, drought, wildfires, coral bleaching, flooding, ocean acidification, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, and catastrophic storms.

Children’s homes and communities have been destroyed by wildfires and cyclones. Roads and sacred ancestral burial grounds have been swept into the sea. People in Hawai`i have witnessed coral reefs die, beaches erode and close, inundation, and traditional practices like cultivating lo’I kalo (taro fields) and loko I’a (fishponds) threatened or lost.

The cascading impacts of climate change threaten Indigenous traditions and the cultural heritage of these young plaintiffs, as well as place-based Indigenous knowledge and solutions critical to fighting the climate crisis.

Protecting their Constitutional Rights

When young peoples’ rights are violated, it is the court’s job to listen, and act. 
Keiki o ka ‘āina (the children of this land) live with deep care and responsibility 
for Hawai’i. The Navahine plaintiffs followed in the footsteps of their kūpuna, 
who activated the courts to assert the people of Hawai’i’s rights to practice traditional customs.

Children in Hawai‘i deserve a clean and healthful environment, it’s their constitutional right. Article XI, Section 9 of the Hawai‘i Constitution states, “Each person has the right to a clean and healthful environment, as defined by laws relating to environmental quality, including control of pollution and conservation, protection and enhancement of natural resources. Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, through appropriate legal proceedings […].”

Why the Department 
of Transportation?

Although Hawai‘i committed to achieving 50-52% emissions reductions below 2005 levels by 2023 and net zero by 2045, the state had not done enough to meet its goals. The transportation sector has been and remains the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the state.

Hawai’i has taken significant measures to move its electricity sector away from 
fossil fuels towards a healthy, stable climate, but HDOT was struggling to eliminate fossil fuel dependence and emissions were projected to continue increasing. 
Without change, the transportation sector would be the culprit behind a full 60% 
of the state’s emissions by 2030.

Navahine v. Hawai’i Department of Transportation focused on the transportation sector as the place we could create outsized impact for climate in Hawai’i, 
and beyond.

The youth sought to ensure HDOT’s success in transforming the transportation system from one with high emissions to zero emissions by 2045.

Navahine youth plaintiffs used their voices, and their power to call on the courts to first, affirm their constitutional rights to a safe, livable future, and second, require the government to uphold those rights, change course, and move away from actions that fuel the climate crisis.