GAO reports on nationwide cost of climate change
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October 26, 2017
GAO reports on nationwide cost of climate change

At the request of two U.S. senators, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported on the potential economic effects of climate change and risks to the federal government.

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“Over the last decade, extreme weather and fire events have cost the federal government over $350 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget,” writes the GAO. “These costs will likely rise as the climate changes, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.”

“For example, for 2020 through 2039, one study estimated between $4 billion and $6 billion in annual coastal property damages from sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms,” adds the GAO. “Also, under this study, the Southeast likely faces greater effects than other regions because of coastal property damages.”

To develop the information, the GAO says it reviewed two national-scale studies and 28 other studies; interviewed 26 experts knowledgeable about the strengths and limitations of the studies; compared federal efforts to manage climate risks with leading practices for risk management and economic analysis; and obtained expert views.

In February 2013, the GAO included Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks on its High-Risk List.

The current GAO report was requested in November 2015 by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME).

Impacts on regions

The report looks at how specific regions of the country will likely experience economic effects of climate change through 2100.  The regional climate change effects include:

  • Increased coastal infrastructure damage along the East Coast and in Gulf Coast states;
  • Increased heat-related mortality in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico;
  • Decreased agricultural yields in the Midwest;
  • Increased energy demand in the Southwest;
  • Increased wildfires in the West;
  • Increased road damage in the Upper Midwest;
  • Increased damage to urban stormwater drainage in the Upper Midwest; and
  • Decreased shellfish harvests in the Northwest. 

Positive effects are limited to increased agricultural harvests in the Midwest.

Recommendation

“Information about the potential economic effects of climate change could inform decision makers about significant potential damages in different U.S. sectors or regions,” states the GAO. “According to several experts and prior GAO work, this information could help federal decision makers identify significant climate risks as an initial step toward managing such risks.”

Accordingly, the GAO recommended that the president and the appropriate executive branch agencies use information on the potential economic effects of climate change to help identify significant climate risks facing the federal government and craft appropriate federal responses.

“Such responses could include establishing a strategy to identify, prioritize, and guide federal investments to enhance resilience against future disasters,” said the GAO.

The GAO provided the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Science and Technology Policy with a draft of the report and received no comments.

Inform federal policy

“My colleagues no longer have to take it from me—the Government Accountability Office tells us climate change will cost taxpayers more than a half a trillion dollars this decade, and trillions more in the future unless we mitigate the impacts.” said Cantwell.

“I hope the release of this analysis will cause all of us to think more broadly about this issue, take a harder look at the economic consequences of inaction, and use what is known about climate risks to inform federal policy,” said Collins.

The GAO report is at http://www.gao.gov/assets/690/687466.pdf.

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