Major report adds climate change to ‘high risks’ facing US government

Several Democrats quickly highlighted the finding, which arrives as President Obama is vowing new executive-level actions on climate but has provided few specifics on his agenda.

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Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, called the addition of climate change to GAO’s long high-risk list a “huge development.”

“Congress can’t ignore an issue that its own auditors say is a top risk to taxpayers,” said Waxman, who recently launched a bicameral climate change task force with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

“When GAO concludes that climate change is high risk, it becomes a fiscal imperative for the federal agencies and Congress to respond. The costs of inaction on climate change will be much higher than the costs of responsible action,” he said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) a letter urging him hold hearings on the finding.

While the biggest political battles over global warming have been around bills and proposed rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report focuses mostly on the need for preparation and adaptation to climate change.

GAO’s report credits the Obama administration with making “some progress toward better organizing across agencies, within agencies, and among different levels of government.”

But it calls for “more comprehensive and systematic” planning, such as more information to manage federal insurance programs’ long-term financial exposure to climate change; addressing gaps in satellite data; a government-wide approach to providing data and technical assistance to state and local governments, and other improvements.

The report describes a variety of ways that government infrastructure is vulnerable to climate change, such as defense installations at risk from rising sea levels.

“The federal government owns and operates hundreds of thousands of buildings and facilities that could be affected by a changing climate,” it states.