Climate Mayors are building back better — now Congress must act
In Houston and in towns across the U.S., climate change is no longer knocking on our front door; it’s broken into the house.
Four years ago, many Houstonians tragically lost everything to Hurricane Harvey, an event that changed our city forever. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) most recent Billion-Dollar Disaster Report found that Texas has experienced more disaster events (124) than any other state, and is one of the few which has been impacted by all seven types of disasters NOAA analyzes.
Our communities are doing everything we can to beat back climate change. Part of that means fortifying our house. We know that reducing the impact of these extreme weather events makes our communities healthier, more equitable, and more livable while also saving money and generating unprecedented economic growth. That is why mayors are working to transition to a clean energy economy, and cities are taking important steps today to reduce emissions, ensure environmental equity, and increase resilience to extreme weather, hotter temperatures, and severe winter storms.
But we need help. As we face an ongoing global pandemic, economic disruption, a long-overdue reckoning with systemic racism, and the imperative to transition to a more sustainable economy — cities and towns are hampered by crumbling infrastructure and insufficient resources. In Houston, we’ve experienced massive blackouts due to crippling cold, which have reverberated to this day as generators go offline for maintenance and our grid overloads even on temperate days. With more frequent and severe hurricanes, an existential threat, there is now the potential for families to be pushed out of their homes if we don’t make the necessary investments in sustainable and resilient infrastructure.
In April, President Biden announced an ambitious, new commitment to reduce the emissions necessary to avoid the devastating impacts of climate change if global temperatures rise above 1.5 ℃.
This renewed commitment to the Paris agreement was an important and necessary first step. The next critical step is passing an ambitious infrastructure program designed to put Americans back to work by the millions and America back on the path to Paris. Congress must act now to move this goal forward and ensure that our national infrastructure agenda centers on the critical work of America’s towns and cities.
The federal government must leverage the power of American cities to meet its commitments to the Paris agreement and reach the net-zero future we need and deserve. Big investments in climate-friendly urban infrastructure — from EV charging stations to dedicated bus lanes, clean drinking water and a resilient electric grid, to building weatherization and energy-efficient affordable housing — can and should be made here in Houston and cities — big and small — across the country. Our cities are economic and climate solution engines that, once kickstarted, can generate huge benefits for hard-working Americans who need good jobs, communities that deserve clean air and water, and regional economies that need to get humming again.
We can do this. In Houston, we recently launched Resilient Houston and the Houston Climate Action Plan, two critically important initiatives focused on transitioning Houston to a clean energy future, preparing for climate shocks, and prioritizing health, job creation, equity, and sustainability.
If we don’t act and act boldly, climate change will continue to pose a significant cost to our economy, well-being, and collective future. However, in this moment, there is an enormous opportunity to take swift action to ensure a healthier, safer, and more prosperous future. Congress must find and fund big, innovative solutions to these emergencies, including community-level energy generation, increased energy efficiency and demand response, improved weatherization, and better energy storage. Cities must in turn, partner with the federal government and civil society to deliver on the science-based goals of the Paris agreement equitably and sustainably.
The incredible diversity of the Climate Mayors network — and the commitment of our members around the country — will be essential to building momentum for greater action. We are ready to do the work necessary to achieve our potential. Now, Congress must pass an infrastructure plan that meets the moment so we can get to work together.
Sylvester Turner is mayor of Houston and chair of the group Climate Mayors.