HOUSTON – In recent years, the city Houston has garnered the unofficial title of disaster capital of the United States.
“Four months into office in 2016, the Tax Day flood, 2017 hurricane Harvey, 2019 Tropical Storm Imelda, February 2021 the winter storm,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday in an interview with KPRC 2.
In many ways, Turner’s tenure has been defined by the series of natural disasters, all climate change-related, he said.
“The storms are coming with greater frequency, greater intensity and costing all of us a lot more. Climate change is real,” Turner said.
In January, Turner became the new chair of Climate Mayors, a bipartisan group of more than 470 American mayors. Their aim is to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and become carbon neutral by 2050.
The city of Houston launched its own climate action plan last year ago on Earth Day.
“The emphasis is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating a more resilient environment,” Turner said.
Advocacy groups focused on the climate and environmental issues applaud the city’s plan as a first step but say its focus is too narrow and lacks attention to equity.
“This is an intersectional problem. We can’t talk about solving for climate change in a vacuum or in a silo, we need to understand how it intersects with housing justice with racial justice, but economic justice and with environmental justice,” said Iris Gonzalez, director of the Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience.
Others have concerns about the city’s ability to enforce recommendations made in the plan needed for change.
“Mandating them is much much more difficult and is not something that this plan does. There are some questions is around will we be able to meet the targets fast enough to really stave off the worst impacts of climate change,” said Stephanie Thomas, a researcher and community organizer with Public Citizen.
Turner said the climate action plan will be continuously updated to meet the needs of the community, hoping Houston can set the example for cities across America.
“If we get it right, then quite frankly, there’s no city that shouldn’t be able to get it right if we can lead the way,” he said.