"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 [See WIMS 1/14/13]. 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.
"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.
"Climate change adaptation -- defined as adjustments to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate change -- is a risk-management strategy to help protect vulnerable sectors and communities that might be affected by changes in the climate. For example, adaptation measures may include raising river or coastal dikes to protect infrastructure from sea level rise, building higher bridges, and increasing the capacity of storm water systems. Policymakers increasingly view climate change adaptation as a risk-management strategy to protect vulnerable sectors and communities that might be affected by changes in the climate, but, as we reported in 2009, the federal government's emerging adaptation activities were carried out in an ad hoc manner and were not well coordinated across federal agencies, let alone with state and local governments.
"The federal government has a number of efforts underway to decrease domestic greenhouse gas emissions, but decreasing global emissions depends in large part on cooperative international efforts. Further, according to the National Research Council [See WIMS 1/9/12] and USGCRP, greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will continue altering the climate system for many decades. As such, the impacts of climate change can be expected to increase fiscal exposure for the federal government in many areas."
GAO concludes that 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.