Texas is already experiencing the effects of climate change and is expected to experience increasing negative effects in the coming decades. Urgent action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors. We're working with Texas communities to get local governments to take action.
Hurricanes & Coastal Flooding
The state’s coastal cities are vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding from rising sea levels. Hurricane Harvey demonstrated this vulnerability, and as warmer air water create hurricanes that are stronger, hold more water and move slower, Houston and the rest of the Texas coast will be even more vulnerable to wind damage and flooding. Maintaining development in coastal areas will become increasingly expensive and more lives will be at risk, especially in communities that fail to adapt.
West, south and central Texas are prone to droughts, with agricultural areas already losing productivity and municipal water supplies threatened. Droughts have caused significant losses in the agricultural sector in recent years and are expected to increase in frequency and duration. Droughts have also affected electricity production at fossil fuel power plants that require water to operate.
Wildfire risk is also increasing in the western, southern and central parts of Texas, fueled by hotter, drier weather. In 2011, millions of acres burned and thousands of homes were destroyed, resulting in billions of dollars in damage. In some areas, trees lost to wildfires may not be able to be replaced, due to the changing climatic conditions.
Rainfall intensity is also increasing across most of the state, making flooding more common and more severe. Historic flood plain maps are no longer accurate because areas that didn’t used to flood are now flooding and areas that were in the 500-year or 100-year floodplain (meaning they would, on average, flood once every 500 or every 100 years) are flooding more often. This means that more homes, businesses and other infrastructure are being destroyed.
1 ºC vs. 2 ºC of Warming
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, shows that the effects of allowing average global temperature increase to reach 2 degrees Celsius (2 ºC) vs. 1.5 ºC are significant. Ecosystems – especially coral reefs – are already suffering from the approximately 1 ºC of warming that has occurred. At 2 ºC ecosystem collapse will become more widespread and extreme weather – including hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and floods will reach levels that societies will have a very difficult time adapting to.
Rapid Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Needed
The IPCC’s report also examines the emissions reductions needed to keep average global warming from exceeding 1.5 ºC. The report shows that reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by about 45% by 2030 and to net-zero (as much being pulled from the atmosphere as is emitted) by 2055, would give us about a 66% chance of keeping warming to 1.5. To increase the chance of success to closer to 100%, emissions need to reach net zero by 2040.
Local Climate Action
Much of our work is centered around helping local governments – especially cities – develop climate action plans. Cities have direct control over many decisions that directly or indirectly affect climate change, including land use, transportation, waste, and sometimes even electricity. In addition to the IPCC, we look to the C40 Cities Deadline 2020 report for guidance on setting climate goals and developing climate plans for cities.
We are involved in climate planning and efforts to reduce emissions in Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas.
Austin Climate Planning
In 2014, the Austin City Council adopted a goal for the entire Austin community to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, if feasible. The Austin Office of Sustainability lead a community process – which Public Citizen participated in – to develop the Austin Community Climate Plan. The plan was adopted by the Austin City Council in 2015. The document identifies strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in three sectors: Electricity & Natural Gas, Transportation & Land Use and Materials & Waste Management. It also quantifies emissions in from Industrial Processes. The plan intersects with several other city plans that are specific to the various sectors.
We continue to engage in implementation and improvement of the plan through the Joint Sustainability Committee, which meets monthly and offers time for residents to share their ideas and concerns. A full update the the plan will begin in the late summer or early fall of 2019, and will include a community steering committee and technical working groups, as well as public meetings and surveys to gather community input.
San Antonio Climate Planning
In 2017, the San Antonio City Council adopted a resolution committing the city to take action to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement. The San Antonio Office of Sustainability worked with a consultants and lead a stakeholder process in 2018 to draft a SA Climate Ready: A Pathway for Climate Action & Adaptation. The plan was originally scheduled for a vote by the San Antonio City Council in April 2019, but opposition to the plan from Valero and NuStar Energy (both oil and gas companies) and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce has resulted in the vote being delayed until October 2019.