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Houston’s Climate Plan Is a Good First Step, but More Is Needed

Environmental Leaders Say Bold Action Must Be Taken to Meet Ambitious Goals

HOUSTON – Houston’s first-ever climate action plan is a good first step in addressing the climate crisis, but much work remains to make the plan a reality, Public Citizen and other environmental advocates said today.

Houston released the plan today, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, after more than a year of collaborative effort by city officials, environmental advocates, and industry and community leaders.

“Mayor Sylvester Turner’s community-wide climate action plan is a step in the right direction, but we challenge the city to go further,” said Stephanie Thomas, Public Citizen’s Houston-based researcher and climate justice organizer. “Houston has been hard hit by climate disasters. We call on the mayor to develop strategies for more ambitious emissions reduction. Given that the climate crisis will hit our most vulnerable communities hardest, Turner should develop a scorecard in partnership with Houston communities to best understand how the plan will affect them. Now is the time to prioritize people over polluters.”

Central to the climate blueprint is Turner’s commitment to the historic 2017 Paris Climate Agreement and its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Houston has one of the largest per capita greenhouse emissions in the U.S., and it will take ambitious action to achieve the net zero carbon benchmark for Houston over the next three decades.

Climate change is making Houston much more vulnerable to catastrophic climate disasters such as Hurricanes Ike, Rita and Harvey. These devastating storms and their residual environmental damage take a major toll on the mental and physical well-being of Houstonians, while exposing the city to huge economic risks and widening socioeconomic disparities.

Public Citizen urges Turner to incorporate the following into the city’s implementation strategy:

  • Robust metrics as the city monitors its annual goals and targets;
  • An equity scorecard to evaluate the plan’s effects on communities most affected by environmental injustices; and
  • A community-led climate task force to oversee the implementation of the plan.

“The mayor’s release of a climate strategy is an important first step for the future of Houston’s people, but it falls short on addressing equity and how Houston will achieve a just transition,” said Iris Gonzalez, director of the Coalition for Environment, Equity & Resilience. “Houstonians already on the frontlines of the climate crisis are experiencing disproportionate impacts to health and safety. For them, an equitable implementation of the plan is a matter of life or death. Success should be defined by and with impacted community members, not industry. Polluters, not people, should pay for cleanup; vulnerable communities must be prioritized.”

“Today on Earth Day, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the need for a comprehensive climate action plan to protect all Houstonians has never been clearer,” said Catherine Flowers, Houston field organizer for Moms Cleans Air Force. “A strong and protective plan is especially important to those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change: low-income communities, communities of color, communities near polluting industries, children, older adults, and those with underlying health conditions. Moms Clean Air Force looks forward to continuing to work with city leaders to implement this historic plan so our children can have a safe and healthy future.”

“Air Alliance Houston is encouraged by the city’s commitment to pursue the goals aggressively and to ensure equitable execution of the plan,” said Harrison Humphreys, transportation policy associate at the Alliance. “We urge the city of Houston to collaborate with Harris County to expand this plan into a regional initiative that is more comprehensive in nature. Regional collaboration is key to addressing the root causes of the impending climate crisis – namely our overreliance on fossil fuels to power our society and economy.”