The Government Accountability Office has added climate change to its High Risk List, saying it is a threat to the U.S. government’s financial well-being.
The phenomenon of global 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 GAO said in a February report. “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.”
Every two years, at the start of a new Congress, the watchdog agency calls lawmakers’ attention to issues or agencies it considers to pose a high risk, often because of potential fraud, waste or mismanagement.
Climate change “is a complex, crosscutting issue that 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 GAO said. Changing weather patterns “could threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels, alter agricultural productivity, and increase the intensity and frequency of severe weather events,” the agency said.
The impacts — and costs — of weather disasters resulting from floods, drought and other events such as tropical cyclones, “will increase in significance as what are considered ‘rare’ events become more common and intense due to climate change,” the GAO said.
Weather-related disasters cost the U.S. government $80 billion between 2004 and 2011, the agency said. Last December, the Office of Management and Budget requested $60.4 billion in federal resources for Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts.
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the addition of climate change to the High Risk List “is a huge development.”
“Congress can’t ignore an issue that its own auditors say is a top risk to taxpayers,” he said.
Gene L. Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States and head of GAO, said the agency has added two items to its High Risk List, with the goal of: 1) limiting the federal government’s fiscal exposure by better managing climate change risks; and 2) mitigating gaps in weather satellite data.