Background Information

Houston is the largest city in Texas and the most populous city in the south. With its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico’s oil and gas resources and its major port, Houston is a major global hub for energy and energy-related industries. Home of NASA’s Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center, the city also boasts a sizeable aerospace sector. While the region’s economy is largely dominated by the fossil fuel industry—Houston’s nickname is the “Energy Capital of the World”—the city is also making significant investments in renewables. Houston’s economic vitality has allowed it not only to be the first major U.S. city to regain all of the jobs lost during the 2008 economic recession, but also to add two new jobs for every one lost during the downturn.

While Houston and the surrounding region benefit greatly from the nearby Gulf of Mexico and the active Port of Houston, these assets also represent significant vulnerabilities, especially in the context of climate change. Extreme weather in the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico threatens the region, and the city—which lies only 50 feet above sea level—is susceptible to flooding and storm surges. Disruptions to the Port of Houston and oil and gas facilities affect not only the regional economy, but also the national economy—approximately 40% of U.S. petrochemical production capacity is located in the Houston metropolitan area.

Team Summary

The team focuses on resilience efforts that work with policymakers, community leaders, and business to better understand—and ultimately narrow—the adaptation gap, or the difference between the climate adaptation activities actually being done and the adaptation work that should be done to ensure a more resilient community. Several team members collaboratively developed the City of Houston’s Sustainability Action Plan, which focuses primarily on extreme heat, hurricanes, and flooding—particularly on the Gulf Coast—and their impacts on low-income communities and the overall regional economy. The team developed and coordinated the Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Exercise Series: Houston Climate Preparedness and Resilience workshop. They have also collaborated on the development of the Houston-Galveston Region’s U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit and the website adapt2climate.org.

Promising Practices

  • Coming from a state with a more conservative political climate, the team has developed promising ideas on ways to best engage with the new federal administration. Over the years, they have identified and honed appropriate strategies for making progress on climate mitigation and adaptation in a challenging environment.
  • The team is currently working on implementing a data collection and management framework similar to the one used by the City of Chicago for their Climate Action Plan to allow the region to bring together stakeholders and data sources to develop baselines and metrics for appropriate and coordinated resilience plans.
  • The team members have a long-standing focus on environmental justice and are actively learning from each other and from peer cities to establish innovative ways to bring equity to the table.

Key Challenges

  • There is a lack of actionable data and information regarding the risk of climate change specific to a community. Without better information, it is difficult to determine actual risk, limiting a community’s ability to take action and widening the adaptation gap.
  • Presenting evidence in a way that motivates decision-makers to take proactive action on climate-related threats, particularly flooding and extreme heat; the prevailing argument that there is too much uncertainty to make informed climate decisions feeds a crippling lack of political will to take action on adaptation.
  • Funding for resilience projects and infrastructure projects, especially with the current level of city debt and political polarization.