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Fifteen-year-old Brianna K. (nicknamed Ku) loves to hear her family tell her about the animals they once observed on the west coast of Maui, Hawaii. These are stories that are reminiscent of rich and resilient ecosystems that bear witness to what has been lost. “Older generations talk about algae or fish they have seen before where I swim today. And when I go there with my father, parents or cousins, you don’t see these views anymore.” Ku explains.

In just a few years, Koo saw his father’s crops dwindle. The fishermen also bring in less fish, as does the family production Kahlo – an indispensable tuber in the Hawaiian diet. At school, Koo learned that these were signs of climate change, and he was told how it affected the locals.

Today, Koo and 13 other young people are filing a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii, alleging that the government has failed to protect their constitutional right to a healthy, unpolluted environment. The complaint, filed in June and supported by two US associations, Our Children’s Trust and Earthjustice, accuses the Hawaiian Department of Transportation of favoring cars with greenhouse gas-emitting internal combustion engines. [responsable du réchauffement de la planète], public transport and other more environmentally friendly modes of transport. Their goal is to force the ministry to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

Since 2020 alone, there have been nearly 500 climate change-related litigations worldwide, according to a report by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. Most of these actions present climate change as a coming issue, i.e., they challenge government strategies and targets for CO emissions.2or blame the fossil fuel and polluting industries for misinforming or cutting their emissions too slowly.

Claim for damages already caused

Koo and his group, like many others of late, take a different approach: they denounce the effects of CO2 emissions.2 in Hawaii for their right to a future culture and livelihood, but they are also suing for damages already done.

For Kim Bauer, a climate and energy lawyer at the University of Durham, England, the case corresponds to one of the first lawsuits directly linking climate change to modern-day damage.

In 2008, residents of Kivalina, an Alaskan indigenous village on the Chukchi Sea, sued ExxonMobil and other companies in the area for damage that had already been done to their community, including flooding and shoreline erosion. According to the lawyer, the residents of Kivalina very accurately identified the consequences.

“The problem is that the courts didn’t want to hear them.”

The complaint was filed without further action. The district judge hearing the case, Saundra Brown Armstrong, wrote in her decision that greenhouse gas emissions regulation is a political issue, not a legal one. In this sense, the topic, she said, fell to the lot of the US Congress. A last resort, referring the case to the US Supreme Court, also failed.

But between 2008 and 2022, judges in some jurisdictions have gradually recognized that victims of the worst effects of climate change have the right to take their cases to court.

Another significant thing has changed since Kivalina’s complaint: scientists have greatly improved