Texas Cities Taking on Climate Change

Texas cities are stepping up to take on the climate change crisis.  Austin was an early leader, but now San Antonio, Dallas and Houston are in the game too.  Instead of waiting for leadership at the federal or state level, these cities are taking action.

Taking action at the city level makes a lot of sense.  Cities are responsible for over 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions.  When cities choose to act, they are often able to reduce emissions quicker than federal or state governments.  Cities can tailor solutions to address specific local challenges, while also stepping up to support broader changes that are needed.

So how do cities take action?  Any policy or program that reduces emissions is helpful, but the most effective way for cities to reduce emissions as much as possible is to develop a community-wide climate action plan.

There are several steps to this process:

  • GHG Inventory: Conduct a greenhouse gas inventory, following the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This is an accounting of all emissions that the community is responsible for.  At least scope 1 and 2 emissions should be included, and ideally scope 3 emissions as well.
  • GHG Reduction Goal: Establish a goal for reducing greenhouse gases. Establishing interim goals is helpful.
  • Stakeholder Process: Establish a community stakeholder process to develop recommendations. This should include outreach to the community at large.
  • Identify Actions: Identify actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the community to meet the goal. Estimate expected emissions reductions, cost and time needed to implement for each action item.  Identify co-benefits.  Prioritize the list based on these factors.
  • Schedule Reports & Updates: Establish a schedule for progress reports and updating the climate action plan.
  • Release Draft Plan: Release the draft climate action plan for public comment.
  • Adopt Plan: Adopt the climate action plan.
  • Implement: Begin implementation of the plan, starting with priority items.
  • Report & Update: Report on progress made, as well as challenges at least as frequently as scheduled. Update the plan as scheduled, or more frequently, if needed.


Let’s take a look at where each of these Texas cities are in this process:


In 2007, the Austin City Council adopted a resolution calling for municipal operations to be carbon neutral by 2020.  That resolution also directed the city to develop a program to enable all residents, businesses, organizations and visitors to achieve carbon neutrality.  Not all of this ambitious resolution was acted upon, but the city did take action on several initiatives to make progress toward reducing emissions from municipal operations.  In 2010, the first community-wide greenhouse gas inventory for Travis County was conducted.  It was then updated in 2013.

Then, in 2014, the Austin City Council adopted a resolution to establish a community-wide net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 goal, and initiate a process to create a community-wide climate action plan.  The Office of Sustainability brought together volunteers from the community to serve on a climate planning steering committee, which met for several months to develop the plan.

The steering committee broke into working groups to develop actions to reduce emission from each sector (electricity and natural gas, land use and transportation, solid waste, and industry).  City staff, additional stakeholders and community members were invited to participate in the working groups.  Each working group hosted at least one charrette to solicit ideas.

The steering committee reviewed the actions from the working groups, established interim greenhouse gas reduction goals, and created a timeline for progress reports and updates to the plan.  The draft plan was published for public comment, edited and sent to City Council for adoption.

All meetings were open to the public and everyone was encouraged to provide ideas and feedback at those meetings, as well as via an online survey.  A telephone survey was conducted to reach additional community members.

In 2015, the Austin City Council adopted the Austin Community Climate Plan and established a volunteer citizen advisory committee, called the Joint Sustainability Committee, to provide recommendations as the plan is implemented.  The committee is primarily comprised of members of various other city advisory boards and commissions that have some intersection with elements of the Austin Community Climate Plan.


San Antonio

In June 2017, the San Antonio City Council passed a resolution pledging to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement goals and Mayor Ron Nirenberg joined Climate Mayors.  Shortly afterward, a partnership – called SA Climate Ready – between the city, CPS Energy and the University of Texas in San Antonio (UTSA) was formed to create a community-wide climate action and adaptation plan.

A volunteer steering committee and five working groups have been appointed to guide the development of the plan.  The technical working groups include buildings and energy, land use and transportation, solid waste, water and natural resources, and climate equity.  Each of the technical working groups is now meeting to develop recommendations for emissions reduction goals and lists of specific actions to reduce emissions.  Climate equity will also provide the final plan to ensure an equitable approach.

The official steering committee and working group meetings are alternating monthly between in-person and online meetings.  The in-person meetings are open to the public and include opportunities for public input.  The public is allowed to observe the online meetings.  The city is also soliciting public input via an online survey.

The San Antonio community-wide greenhouse gas inventory is in the process of being updated to reflect 2016 data.  The current plan is to incorporate scope 1 and 2 emissions.  Some steering committee and working group members are pressing to have some scope 3 emissions included – specifically fugitive methane emissions from natural gas extraction, processing and transportation.



The Dallas Office of Environmental Quality is working to create its first community-wide greenhouse gas inventory.  The city has previously conducted a greenhouse gas inventory for its own operations.  The community-wide inventory will utilize 2015 data and will include most scope 1 and 2 emissions, with the exception that emissions from industry are not currently planned to be included.  The inventory should be completed sometime this summer.



In 2014, then Houston Mayor Annise Parker co-founded the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, now Climate Mayors.  Now the City of Houston is getting started with climate planning.  In June of 2017, Mayor Sylvester Turner was named as a Climate Mayors co-chair.  He has now publicly stated his support for the city creating a climate action and adaptation plan.  The city is working to create a community-wide greenhouse gas inventory that will include scope 1 and 2 emissions.  City officials are working to identify funding for a public climate planning process.


If you want to get involved in one of these ongoing efforts or start a climate planning process in your city, email me at kwhite@citizen.org.