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GAO reports Climate Change one of top US government risks

February 14th, 2013 · No Comments

As part of its responsibilities to support more informed Congressional decision making and inform members of Congress about key issues, since 1990 the Government Accounting Office (GAO) has provided a list of key high-risk areas.

identified as high risk due to their greater vulnerability to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.

Earlier today, the GAO’s Valentine’s Day gift to the Tea-Hadists in charge of the House of Representatives was the release of a HIGH-RISK SERIES report that included two new critical risks:

  • Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks. 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.
  • Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data. Potential gaps in environmental satellite data beginning as early as 2014 and lasting as long as 53 months have led to concerns that future weather forecasts and warnings—including warnings of extreme events such as hurricanes, storm surges, and floods—will be less accurate and timely. A number of decisions are needed to ensure contingency and continuity plans can be implemented effectively

Just days afterCongressional GOP hates environment the President stood in front of a Joint Session of Congress and spoke directly on climate change, a key Congressional Agency reported to Congress that Climate Change is a critical issue.

What is the chance that those running the House will listen to either of these voices?
Very quickly, what is the GAO?

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the “congressional watchdog,” GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.

Mission is to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. We provide Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, nonideological, fair, and balanced.

The full GAO’S 2013 HIGH-RISK SERIES report has twelve pages discussing climate change as a financial risk and the critical situation related to weather (and, therefore as well, climate-science related) satellites.

The discussion on climate change merits reading. It begins:

Climate change poses risks to many environmental and economic systems—including agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems, and human health—and presents a significant financial risk to the federal government. The United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has observed that the impacts and costliness of weather disasters will increase in significance as what are considered “rare” events become more common and intense due to climate change.

Weather-related events have cost the nation tens of billions of dollars in damages over the past decade. For example, in 2012, the administration requested $60.4 billion for Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts. These impacts pose significant financial risks for the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, insures property through federal flood and crop insurance programs, provides technical assistance to state and local governments, and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters. However, the federal government is not well positioned to address this fiscal exposure, partly because of the complex, cross-cutting nature of the issue. Given these challenges and the nation’s precarious fiscal condition, we have added limiting the federal government’s fiscal exposure to climate change to our 2013 list of high-risk areas. Among other impacts, climate change could threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels, alter agricultural productivity, and increase the intensity and frequency of severe weather events such as floods, drought, and hurricanes.

“Among other impacts, climate change could impact …”

And, the long list that follows is truly only “among other impacts” …

The climate change section is starting to get attention.

Why climate change is a threat

Now is the time for the federal government to prepare for climate change, according to the GAO. “While implementing adaptive measures may be costly, there is a growing recognition that the cost of inaction could be greater and — given the government’s precarious fiscal position — increasingly difficult to manage given expected budget pressures which will constrain not just future ad hoc responses but other federal programs as well,” the report said.

Unlike other government efforts to calculate the risk of climate change, the GAO’s report did not attempt to quantify the cost of inaction. It simply noted that the federal government has spent more than $80 billion on disaster relief since 2004, with the number of disaster declarations hitting a record 98 in fiscal year 2011. On the other hand, the U.K.’s 2006 Stern Review of climate change economics estimated that unabated global warming could reduce global annual economic output by 5% to 20%, or perhaps more.

The challenge to addressing climate change risks is the need to “develop a cohesive approach at the federal level that also informs action at the state and local levels,” the GAO said. In addition to making a broad plan, the report recommends that the federal government find a way to work around the expected gap between the launch of new weather satellites and the obsolescence of the old satellites, as well as reform the federal crop and flood insurance programs to account for a changing climate.

The GAO’s report’s climate change section concludes in this way:

In May 2011, we found no coherent Esso 01strategic government-wide approach
to climate change funding and that federal officials do not have a shared
understanding of strategic government-wide priorities. At that time, we recommended that the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President clearly establish federal strategic climate change priorities, including the roles and responsibilities of the key federal entities, taking into consideration the full range of climate-related activities within the federal government. The relevant federal entities have not directly addressed this recommendation.

Federal agencies have made some progress toward better organizing across agencies, within agencies, and among different levels of government; however, the increasing fiscal exposure for the federal government calls for more comprehensive and systematic strategic planning including, but not limited to, the following:

  • A government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership and the authority to manage climate change risks that encompasses the entire range of related federal activities and addresses all key elements of strategic planning. More information to understand and manage federal insurance programs’ long-term exposure to climate change and analyze the potential impacts of an increase in the frequency or severity of weather-related events on their operations.
  • A government-wide approach for providing (1) the best available climate-related data for making decisions at the state and local level and (2) assistance for translating available climate-related data into information that officials need to make decisions.

  • Potential gaps in satellite data need to be effectively addressed.

  • Improved criteria for assessing a jurisdiction’s capability to respond and recover from a disaster without federal assistance, and to better apply lessons from past experience when developing disaster cost estimates.

Let us reiterate, the Congressional agency with the “responsib[ility] to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people” has declared Climate Change a “High Risk” item demanding more serious Congressional and Administration attention. And, their report calls for “a government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership and the authority to manage climate change risks …”

Perhaps some in Congress will actually pay attention to their own agency …

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Tags: climate change · Energy