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Critical Infrastructure

Rising temperatures, more frequent and severe extreme precipitation events, floods, droughts, heatwaves, and continued sea-level rise from climate change all threaten Texas' current and aging infrastructure1,2. As more and more people move to urban areas, the built environment becomes an even greater key to mitigating and adapting to climate change3,4,5.

Direct exposure to rising sea levels and damages from storm surges makes the Gulf Coast the most vulnerable area in Texas to climate change1,6,7. Expected increases in drought put the state's aging water pipelines at risk of failure. Combined with the projected increases in water demand, water resource management is a hyper-critical issue to consider under climate change8,9,10. Groundwater pumping, surface water collection and transport, and water use all need to be addressed. Decentralized on-site reuse strategies hold great potential to alleviate some of the demand on limited groundwater aquifers, especially during disasters and droughts11,12,13,14. Elevated coastal and urban flooding risks will require additional drainage and flood management infrastructure to be built and maintained15. Warmer conditions with less average precipitation and more intense extreme weather events speed up the deterioration of buildings, roads, pipelines, and power plants16,17. Recent extreme weather events such as Winter Storm Uri (2021) and Hurricane Harvey (2017) illustrate how the Texas water and electrical grid is ill-prepared for climate change2,18. Currently, Texas has no explicit state plan to tackle these concerns13,19. Still, local cities such as Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston all have implemented local action plans to curb their greenhouse gas emissions while preparing adaptive efforts to combat the effects of a changing climate.

Texas' power grid was built 60 to 70 years ago and was designed to last only 50 years2,20. Many Texas power plants reside along coastlines and are evaluated to be in danger of flooding from coastal storm surges21. Presently, these issues are not fully addressed18,22,23,24,25.

Focusing on marginalized and socioeconomically vulnerable groups, both urban and rural, which suffer the greatest exposure and risks to the effects of climate change, must be prioritized in current and future infrastructure plans7,26,27. Adapting all major sectors—energy, air quality, disaster response, transportation, public health, parks, and insurance programs—with climate change in mind will not only make critical infrastructure more resilient to its effects but will also enhance mitigation efforts to reduce their severity in the future1,28,29,30.

Learn more about infrastructure climate planning and its connections with the economy and public health below. 

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES): Focuses on advancing policy and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, accelerating the transition to clean and renewable energy, and improving resilient adaptation to climate impacts. As fossil fuels are the driving cause of climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, priority needs to be given to the energy sector to mitigate future change and adapt to current and near-term impacts.

Georgetown Climate Center: Tracks Texas’ climate change adaptation plans and provides information to help communities prepare. They house coastal resiliency plans for the state and local reports for different cities. Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have implemented climate action plans in recent years, with expressed commitments to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutral status by 2050.

New flood maps show US damage rising 26% in next 30 years due to climate change alone, and the inequity is stark (The Conversation

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  2. Glazer, Y. R., D. M. Tremaine, J. L. Banner, M. Cook, R. E. Mace, J. Nielsen-Gammon, E. Grubert, K. Kramer, and others 2021. Winter Storm Uri: A Test of Texas’ Water Infrastructure and Water Resource Resilience to Extreme Winter Weather Events. Journal of Extreme Events. World Scientific: 2150022.
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  13. Olson, E. 2021. Texas Shows Us Our Water Future with Climate Change: It Ain’t Pretty. NRDC.
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  15. Miller, M. M., and M. Shirzaei. 2021. Assessment of future flood hazards for southeastern Texas: Synthesizing subsidence, sea-level rise, and storm surge scenarios. Geophysical Research Letters Wiley Online Library: e2021GL092544.
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  19. Douglas, E. 2022. A year after the electric grid failed, Texas focuses on reliability, not climate change. The Texas Tribune. February 15.
  20. Gearino, D. 2022. One Year Later: The Texas Freeze Revealed a Fragile Energy System and Inspired Lasting Misinformation. Inside Climate News.
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  28. Gill, S. E., J. F. Handley, A. R. Ennos, and S. Pauleit. 2007. Adapting cities for climate change: the role of the green infrastructure. Built environment Alexandrine Press: 115–133.
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  30. Creutzig, F., P. Agoston, J. C. Minx, J. G. Canadell, R. M. Andrew, C. L. Quéré, G. P. Peters, A. Sharifi, and others 2016. Urban infrastructure choices structure climate solutions. Nature Climate Change Nature Publishing Group: 1054–1056.