US Governmental Accountability Office declares that climate change is a “high risk” area in need of major reform in Congress

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been, since 1921, the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the US Congress.  The GAO maintains a program to focus attention on government operations that it identifies as high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. In its biennial update, in February 2013, it identified new high-risk areas needing attention by Congress and the executive branch.  For the first time, the GAO added climate change as a “high risk” area in need of major reform:

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

At the same time, it added another, related risk: 

Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data. Potential gaps in environmental satellite data beginning as early as 2014 and lasting as long as 53 months have led to concerns that future weather forecasts and warnings–including warnings of extreme events such as hurricanes, storm surges, and floods–will be less accurate and timely. A number of decisions are needed to ensure contingency and continuity plans can be implemented effectively.


As the Biennial report states, without ambiguity, “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.”  At 15.

“Although the exact details cannot be predicted with certainty, there is a clear scientific understanding that climate change poses serious risks to human society and many of the physical and ecological systems upon which society depends, with the specific impacts of concern, and the relative likelihood of those impacts, varying significantly from place to place and over time.  These impacts will result in increased fiscal exposure for the federal government in many areas, including, but not limited to its role as (1) the owner or operator of extensive infrastructure such as defense facilities and federal property vulnerable to climate impacts, (2) the insurer of property and crops vulnerable to climate impacts, (3) the provider of data and technical assistance to state and local governments responsible for managing the impacts of climate change on their activities, and (4) the provider of aid in response to disasters.”  At 60-61.

The report is a welcome antidote to the many US Congressional climate skeptic and deniers.  It also reinforces a recent report, Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis, issued by The National Research Council, part of the US National Academy of Sciences.  That report was commissioned by the US intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to assess the connections between climate change and political and social stresses that may impact on U.S. national security concerns.   The language of the report is unequivocal: “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.”  At 1-5.   See discussion “Carbonification, or How We Are Condemning Ourselves to Hell Because of Our Lust for Carbon,” in the Reports section of irish environment (November 2012),









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