Houston/Galveston Region Faces $12 Billion Infrastructure Losses from Climate Change

June 4, 2009


Contact: David Yoskowitz, 361.563.6467, david.yoskowitz@tamucc.edu
               Amy Hardberger, 512.691.3437, ahardberger@edf.org
Media Contact: Laura Williamson, Environmental Defense Fund, 512.691.3447-w or 512.828.1690-c or lwilliamson@edf.org
(Austin, TX – June 4, 2009) Galveston-area sea level rise over the next 100 years due to climate change could displace more than 100,000 households and create more than $12 billion in infrastructure losses, according to a report released today commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and British Consulate-General Houston, The Socio-Economic Impact of Sea Level Rise in the Galveston Bay Region.
“The study’s conservative estimates of sea level rise show that 78 percent of current households will be displaced in Galveston County alone,” said Amy Hardberger, attorney for EDF. “Galveston residents and their community are already experiencing the effects of climate change and willbe even more impacted in the future.”
Galveston, Harris and Chambers Counties were the focus of the study, which used an economic model to assess the impact of both conservative and aggressive sea level rise estimates over the next 100 years on households, buildings, industrial and hazardous material sites and water treatments plants. It includes a scenario with a Hurricane Ike-level storm.
“Climate change is happening,” said David Yoskowitz, co-author of the report and Endowed Research Professor for Socio-Economics at the Harte Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “It is not a hypothetical, it is a fact. Sea level rise is occurring in Galveston Bay as well as around the Gulf of Mexico, this is another fact.
“We need to consider the socio-economic impact of these changes and begin to take long-term sustainable action to get a handle on the rising sea around Galveston in order to protect the region’s future.”
Under aggressive sea level rise estimates, about 93 percent of Galveston County’s households would be displaced, which is about 1.3 percent of all Texas households and equivalent to the entire city of Corpus Christi.
Under both scenarios looking at all three counties, at least 23 public facilities and industrial sites will be impacted, begging many questions about how government agencies will work to move or protect these sites.
“This region is a hotspot of economic activity including the Port of Houston, an energy complex of over 3,000 firms and a world-class medical system, all which represent 18 percent of Texas employment,” Hardberger said. “The Houston-Galveston area cannot afford to delay simple actions like energy efficiency, which will mitigate carbon emissions and reduce sea level rise, keeping economic drivers intact.”
According to the report, the impacts of sea level rise include more intense storms. If Texas ignores climate change, small islands will be adversely impacted through substantial storm surge and erosion. All of these hazards threaten infrastructure, local resources and facilities that are the livelihood of island communities.
“If we take the very conservative estimate of a .69 meter sea level rise in the next 100 years for Galveston,” said Yoskowitz, “an Ike-level storm would be estimated to cause an additional $1.7 billion in damage due to flooding for the three county region surrounding Galveston Bay, given the economic conditions of today. To put that figure in perspective, it would equate to the median income for almost 36,000 Texas households.”
This report is part of a larger effort by EDF, British Consulate-General Houston and the Texas Climate Initiative (based at the Houston Advanced Research Center) seeking to illustrate the impact that climate change could have on local communities.
“The UK has led the way on hard-headed analysis of the economic impacts of climate change,” said Paul Lynch, HM Consul General for the British Consulate–General Houston. “Research like this study on the Houston-Galveston region will help ensure that we develop the right policies to tackle this global problem. We continue to support economic and scientific research to get a better understanding of the risks for different regions and different business sectors.”
Yoskowitz will be presenting this study at the Texas General Land Office’s 2009 Conference in Galveston themed “Caring for the Coast” on June 5 at the Galveston Island Convention Center at 10:40 a.m. in the Spinnaker Room.
Authors of the report include David W. Yoskowitz, James Gibeaut, and Ali McKenzie, all of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi.