GAO Warns of High Fiscal Risks from Climate Change Impacts in U.S.

Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Blog, Coastal Development, Coastal Resilience | 0 comments

FDR Drive, Lower Manhattan, Hurricane Sandy. Photo by  Christopher Schoenbohm, creative commons license via flickrThe U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the independent federal entity tasked with monitoring the country’s fiscal well-being, issued a rare warning today that climate change poses a “high risk” for government operations.  The GAO report was issued as part of a biennial review of government programs at risk of waste, fraud, abuse or inefficiency. 

“GAO maintains a program to focus attention on government operations that it identifies as high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges,” says the GAO. “This biennial update describes the status of high-risk areas listed in 2011 and identifies any new high-risk area needing attention by Congress and the executive branch. Solutions to high-risk problems offer the potential to save billions of dollars, improve service to the public, and strengthen the performance and accountability of the U.S. government.”

The GAO added only two items to the list of “High Risk” areas this year:  “Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data,” and “Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks.” About climate change, the GAO summarized:

Climate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters. The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, and needs a government wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks.

The full report notes the beginning of Sandy recovery costs, but also that there were 98 declared disasters in 2011, with costs skyrocketing.  FEMA, in particular is stressed by climate impacts, but the report also notes that the federal government is responsible for millions of acres of federal lands that will be seriously impacted by climate change.

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