GAO adds climate change to high-risk list

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Cimate change poses risks to the environment and the economy and presents a significiant financial risk to the federal government, says the Government Accountability Office, which added federal exposure to climate change to its bienially-updated list of high-risk areas. 

The federal government is "not well positioned to address this fiscal exposure, partly because of the complex, cross-cutting nature of the issue," the GAO says in the 2013 edition of the high-risk report (.pdf).

The GAO warns in its report that 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. In addition, auditors say that over the past decade weather-related events have cost the United States tens of billions of dollars in damages.

These impacts pose significant financial risks to the federal government, since not only is it an owner of extensive infrastructure, but it also insures private property through federal flood and crop insurance programs, provides grants to state and local governments, and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters," says the GAO. In 2012, the Obama administration requested $60.4 billion alone for Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts.

Two important federal insurance efforts—the National Flood Insurance Program and the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation—are based on assumptions "established decades ago and do not account for climate change," states the report, noting that NFIP has been on the GAO's High Risk List since March 2006 due to concerns about its long-term financial solvency and related operational issues.

In addition, the federal government invests billions of dollars annually in infrastructure projects that state and local governments prioritize and supervise, and that have large up front capital investments.

As a result, the report concludes that  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."

For more:
-download the 2013 GAO high risk list, GAO-13-283 (.pdf)

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