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City of Houston issues report highlighting progress of climate, sustainability plans

Here's what resilience and sustainability wins Houston has had the past three years. Photo courtesy of the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability

Houston is making strides in its commitment to combat climate change and build a more resilient future for its residents, according to a recent report.

Three years after Resilient Houston and the Climate Action Plan launched in 2020, the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability, in collaboration with other departments, has issued a report on the progress of both plans.

"The creation of the Mayor's Office of Resilience and Sustainability (MORS) as a combined office in October 2021 is a visionary and bold step that brings a holistic perspective to the practice of resilience and sustainability in Houston," Priya Zachariah, chief resilience and sustainability officer, writes in the report.

"When Houston talks about resilience – it means building capacity in our most vulnerable communities to respond, grow, and thrive in the face of climate shocks and stressors," she continues. "When Houston talks about sustainability – it means reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but it also means energy affordability, energy reliability, and energy access for everyday Houstonians."

The report identified some of the biggest wins within the city's plans, including highlighting that 172 out of 201 Resilient Houston sub-actions and 69 out of 96 Climate Action Plan actions have been completed or are in progress. The combined efforts have led to a series of accomplishments over the past year that are driving Houston toward becoming a more sustainable, equitable, and climate-resilient city.

“Earth Day HTX 2023 marked three years of laser-focused cooperation between all city departments and our dedicated community partners to push forth initiatives for a cleaner, greener Houston and I’m proud to say that we are exceeding expectations mapped out in these two plans,” Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a statement. “We track 30 measurable goals and are transparent with where we are on each one of them. We are on track to meet or exceed almost every goal and even though this is my last year in office, the wheels are in motion for future administrations to continue building on this success.”

One of the highlights from the report is the city's reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The greenhouse gas emissions inventory for 2020 showed a notable 10 percent reduction from the baseline established in 2014.

The city's dedication to sustainability and transparency has also been recognized by external organizations. The Carbon Disclosure Project, or CDP, awarded Houston an A rating in 2022 for its efforts, including public disclosure of climate-related information, a community-wide emissions inventory, and the implementation of a climate risk and vulnerability assessment.

Furthermore, Houston has achieved the Gold designation as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, for cities by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This recognition highlights the city's commitment to green building practices and environmental responsibility.

In terms of green infrastructure, Houston has continued to prioritize tree planting efforts. Per the report, 214,134 trees were planted in 2022, contributing to a total of over 1.4 million trees since 2019. The goal is to plant 4.6 million trees by 2030, effectively reducing urban heat island effects, improving air and water quality, and providing numerous ecological benefits.

In addition, Houston has taken proactive measures to protect its natural habitats and enhance climate resilience. The City Council approved the Nature Preserve Ordinance in 2022, safeguarding 7,423 acres of natural habitat in city parks. These nature preserves will serve as vital spaces for native wildlife, mitigate flooding, and support carbon sequestration.

Houston's commitment to sustainable transportation is also evident. The city has expanded its bike infrastructure, adding 20 miles of high-comfort bike lanes in 2022. This brings the total bikeway miles to 406 out of a goal of 500 miles, promoting alternative and eco-friendly modes of transportation.

The city's efforts extend to municipal operations as well. Houston adopted a Municipal Building Decarbonization and Benchmarking policy in 2022, setting the stage for a more sustainable approach to building management. Additionally, the Houston Airport System has taken significant steps towards achieving carbon neutrality by engaging in the Airport Carbon Accreditation program.

Houston's commitment to renewable energy has also yielded positive results. The city has witnessed an increase in local solar generation, with annual solar generation reaching 148,030 MWh in 2021. Efforts to promote solar investments, including a group-buying campaign with Solar United Neighbors, have contributed to this upward trend.

The city's commitment to electrification is evident in its municipal fleet. Houston has expanded its electric vehicle fleet, operating 333 hybrid electric vehicles and 88 battery electric vehicles. An additional 107 battery electric vehicles and 41 hybrid electric vehicles are expected to be added within the next year. Charging infrastructure is also expanding, with 57 installed chargers and plans for an additional 144.

Mayor Turner's leadership in climate action has extended beyond the city's borders. The mayor led a delegation to Mexico City to launch the Resilient Cities Network initiative, Women in Resilience, highlighting Houston's role in international climate leadership. The city aksi hosted Queen Maxima of the Netherlands and signed a letter of intent with the city of Rotterdam to collaborate on community and energy resilience.

The full report tracking the initiatives' progress is available online.

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This article was generated in part by artificial intelligence.

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A View From HETI

Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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