Climate Change Continues to be one of the Most Expensive Threats to the U.S.

Jun 28, 2019

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently confirmed that climate change is costing the federal government significant sums of money every year. In 2013, GAO placed climate change in the “high risk” category of programs most in need of transformation. At the current time, the three most expensive drains on federal funds are: disaster aid in response to national disasters, which are in part due to climate change; federal insurance for crops and property; and the costs associated with managing federal land. 

“Climate change is playing a role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to the billion-dollar disasters,” GAO noted in its recent report Climate Change: Opportunities to Reduce Federal Fiscal Exposure.  The report was a summary of J. Alfredo Gomez, Director of GAO’s National Resources and Environment team’s recent testimony before the House Committee on the Budget in which Gomez discussed the known potential effects of climate change on the U.S. and the federal budget, and how lawmakers can use this information to make more informed decisions down the line.

To support his arguments about the how cost of climate change is impacting the U.S., Gomez noted that coastal damage to cities thanks to rising sea levels and stronger, more frequent storms will soon cost between $4 and $6 billion a year. Unfortunately, at the current time, there are no established mechanisms to set aside funds to cover such anticipated costs.

“The federal budget, however, does not generally account for disaster assistance provided by Congress or the long-term impacts of climate change on existing federal infrastructure and programs,” the report said.

However, the report does provide a set of recommendations, reiterated from its March 2019 High Risk report that provide lawmakers with a roadmap to creating a fiscal safety net for the increased costs of climate change:

  • Entities within the Executive Office of the President (EOP) should work with partners to establish federal strategic climate change priorities that reflect the full range of climate-related federal activities;
  • Entities within EOP should use information on potential economic effects from climate change to help identify significant climate risks and craft appropriate federal responses;
  • Entities within EOP should designate a federal entity to develop and update a set of authoritative climate observations and projections for use in federal decision making, and create a national climate information system with defined roles for federal agencies and certain nonfederal entities; and 
  • The Department of Commerce should convene federal agencies to provide the best-available forward-looking climate information to organizations that develop design standards and building codes to enhance infrastructure resilience.

To view the report in full, click here: https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/699605.pdf