March 6, 2019

GAO Report Concludes Climate Change Will Cost Taxpayers Even More if Government Fails to Act

Statement by Rachel Cleetus, Union of Concerned Scientists

WASHINGTON (March 6, 2019)—The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released its 2019 “High Risk” report, which—like previous reports—concluded that climate change is a major threat to taxpayer-funded federal programs and that the government must do more to address this ever-worsening problem. Produced every two years, the report identifies federal agencies and programs that need transformative changes, as well as those at risk due to fraud, waste, abuse or mismanagement. The GAO will present the report’s findings to Congress today at hearings in the House and the Senate.

Below is a statement by Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist in the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The GAO has once again affirmed that climate change is a significant threat to the public, the economy and taxpayer-backed federal programs and assets. Citing the Fourth National Climate Assessment, the new report reiterates that the federal government’s financial exposure will continue to grow unless it acts—and acts quickly—to invest in climate resilience and curb carbon emissions.

“Notably, the GAO has singled out the federal government’s exposure to climate risks as an area of regression since the prior report was issued in 2017, citing among other things the Trump administration’s rollback of the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.

“The report cites the failure to reform the national flood insurance and federal crop insurance programs and account for climate risks to federally funded infrastructure as evidence that the U.S. government urgently needs to develop an adequate, comprehensive response to climate change. Leadership at the national level is vital and can encourage progress at state and local levels. Continuing in the wrong direction will not only impose mounting costs on taxpayers, but could also jeopardize the health, safety and livelihoods of people around the country.

“On the plus side, the report calls out the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, which requires the Department of Defense to report on climate risks to its installations, as a sign of progress.

“As the GAO points out, in light of growing extreme weather and climate-related disaster costs, the federal government must invest ahead of time to help communities prepare instead of just picking up the pieces after disasters strike. A recent study shows the nation can save $6 in future disaster costs, for every $1 spent on pre-hazard mitigation. Investing in climate resilience would help reduce future costs of climate impacts and cutting global warming emissions would help limit the magnitude of those impacts. President Trump, Congress and government agencies must take this repeated call for climate action seriously for the sake of communities on the frontlines of climate risks.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.