Navahine v. Hawaii Department of Transportation

The youth plaintiffs are going to court to ensure the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation follows through on the legal mandate, set by the state legislature, to decarbonize Hawaiʻi’s economy and achieve a zero emissions economy by 2045.



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Case Overview

14 young people filed a constitutional climate lawsuit against the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation (HDOT); HDOT Director Jade Butay; Governor David Ige; and the State of Hawaiʻi.

In Navahine F. v. Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation, the youth plaintiffs claim that their state DOT’s active operation of a transportation system that results in high levels of greenhouse gas emissions is causing significant harm to their communities, violates their constitutional rights, and undermines their ability to “live healthful lives in Hawaiʻi now and into the future.”

Hawaiʻi’s state constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment includes the right to a life-sustaining climate system. The youth plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a declaration that HDOT is violating this right and the state’s public trust doctrine to “conserve and protect Hawaiʻi’s natural beauty and all natural resources.”

Compared to people born in 1960, children born in 2020 are expected to face a two to seven-fold increase in extreme climate events such as heat waves, wildfires, crop failures, droughts, and floods. Hawaiʻi’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions remain higher than 85% of the countries on Earth. Emissions from Hawaiʻi’s transportation sector are increasing and expected to comprise nearly 60% of Hawaiʻi’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The youth plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a declaration of law that the state’s transportation system, and its resulting greenhouse gas pollution and climate harms, violates the state’s constitutional public trust doctrine and infringes upon the youth plaintiffs’ constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

The youth plaintiffs in this lawsuit are between the ages of 9–18 and from the islands of Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Maui, and Kauaʻi. Counsel for the youth plaintiffs include Isaac Moriwake and Leināʻala L. Ley of Earthjustice and Andrea Rodgers and Kimberly Willis of Our Children’s Trust.

Eight teens are upbeat and excited during rally
Youth plaintiffs and supporters hold up signs after the Navahine vs the Hawai'i Department of Transportation court hearing in Honolulu, Hawaii on January 26th 2023. (Elyse Butler for Earthjustice)

Case Updates

May 25, 2023 Press Release

Youth Plaintiffs in Navahine v. Hawai‘i Department of Transportation Argue Against Delays in Historic Climate Case

State Transportation Department sought to postpone trial 8-12 months

Teens in front of a colorful mural.
April 25, 2023 feature

How Hawaiian Youth Advocates are Fighting for Hawai‘i’s Future

As the climate crisis threatens their land, food, and traditions, 14 youth advocates took the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation to court to spur climate action.

April 6, 2023 Press Release

Judge Rules in Favor of Hawaiʻi Youth Plaintiffs in Climate Case Navahine F. v. Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation; Case Will Proceed to Trial

Case argues state’s transportation system causes high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, violating youth plaintiffs’ state constitutional rights and public trust doctrine