Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks

By District Energy posted 10-24-2017 00:00


Alfredo Gomez, U.S. Government Accountability Office


Climate change is considered by many to be a complex, crosscutting issue that poses risks to many environmental and economic systems and presents a significant financial risk to the federal government. According to the National Research Council (NRC), although the exact details cannot be predicted with certainty, there is clear scientific understanding that climate change poses serious risks to human society and many of the physical and ecological systems upon which society depends. According to the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), among other reported impacts, climate change could threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels, alter agricultural productivity, and increase the costs of severe weather events as these once “rare” events potentially become more common and intense due to climate change.

For example, the Department of Defense's (DOD) 2010 and 2014 Quadrennial Defense Reviews state that climate change poses risks to defense infrastructure, particularly on the coasts. DOD's infrastructure consists of more than 555,000 defense facilities and 28 million acres of land, with a replacement value of close to $850 billion. In addition, extreme weather events have cost the nation tens of billions of dollars over the past decade. For example, in January 2013, about $60 billion in budget authority was provided for expenses related to the consequences of Superstorm Sandy. Further, based on a 2013 analysis of disaster relief appropriations by the Congressional Research Service, the amount of inflation-adjusted disaster relief per fiscal year increased from a median of $6.2 billion for the years 2000 to 2006, to a median of $9.1 billion for the years 2007 to 2013 (46 percent).

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