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Hawaii youth activists win huge climate change court case

By USGS: Barry W. Eakins, Joel E. Robinson,Japan Marine Science and Technology Center: Toshiya Kanamatsu, Jiro Naka,University of Hawai'i: John R. Smith,Tokyo Institute of Technology: Eiichi Takahashi, andMonterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute: David A. Clague - Bathymetry image PDF (3.6 MB) from publication USGS Geologic Investigations Series Map I-2809: Hawaii's Volcanoes Revealed, Public Domain,

A group of Hawaii teenagers who sued the state government over the threat of climate change are celebrating a settlement which emphasises a plan to decarbonize the island’s transportation system in the next 20 years.

The settlement reached in Navahine v. Hawaii Department of Transportation is further recognition of children’s constitutional rights to a life-sustaining climate, according to Governor Josh Green and attorneys with public interest law firms Our Children’s Trust and Earthjustice.

The youths in the suit had argued that Hawaii was violating the state constitution by operating a transportation system that harms the climate and infringes upon the right to a clean and healthy environment. More specifically, they accused the Hawaii Department of Transportation of consistently prioritising building highways over other types of transportation.

The burning of fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal — is the main contributor to global warming caused by human activity, and Hawaii is the state most dependent in the U.S. on petroleum for its energy needs, says Our Children’s Trust.

The parties said the settlement was the first between a state government and youth plaintiffs to address constitutional issues arising from climate change

In a statement from the governor’s office, Ed Sniffen, Director of Transportation, said: “Climate change is indisputable…burying our heads in the sand and making it the next generation’s problem is not pono.”

The lawsuit said one plaintiff, a 14-year-old Native Hawaiian raised in Kaneohe, was from a family that has farmed taro for more than 10 generations. However, extreme droughts and heavy rains caused by climate change have reduced crop yields and threatened her ability to continue the cultural practice.

‘Burying our heads in the sand’

The complaint said that rising sea levels also threatened to put their lands underwater. The settlement’s provisions include the establishment of a greenhouse gas reduction plan within one year of the agreement that sets out a road map to decarbonize Hawaii’s transportation system in the next 20 years.

Provisions also include “immediate, ambitious investments in clean transportation infrastructure” such as completing the pedestrian and bicycle networks within five years and dedicating at least $40 million to expanding the public electric vehicle charging network by 2030.

Click here for more information on Navahine v. Hawaii Department of Transportation.

Author: Simon Weedy

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