Congressional Task Force Reacts to GAO Putting Climate Change on High Risk List

Feb 14, 2013

Every two years, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases its High Risk List, identifying the areas that pose the highest risk to the U.S. government.

Today, GAO announced that for the first time, it is adding the fiscal exposure resulting from climate change to the High Risk List. In designating climate change as a high risk, GAO recognized that climate change threatens to inflict huge costs on the U.S. taxpayer, including damage to physical infrastructure, increased insurance liability, and disaster relief.  

As co-chairs of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, Rep. Henry A. Waxman and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse applaud GAO for its recognition of climate change as one of the highest risks to the nation. GAO’s report will make it much harder for Congress to ignore the threat of climate change to taxpayers. 

“The addition of climate change to the High Risk List demonstrates the serious financial risk climate change poses to our nation,” said Rep. Waxman, the Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “This report is a huge development. Congress can’t ignore an issue that its own auditors say is a top risk to taxpayers. Members of both parties rely on GAO to identify the biggest risks facing our government. 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.” 

“GAO’s inclusion of climate change on its High Risk List sharpens our focus on the threat that climate change poses to infrastructure, our financial well-being, and way of life,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “It also further underscores the need to break through the barricade of special-interest influence that has prevented action on climate change in Washington.”

According to the world’s premier scientific institutions, climate change is occurring, is caused primarily by human activities, and poses substantial risks to the nation’s public health, environment, and economy. The recently released National Climate Assessment concludes that the impacts of climate change are already being felt.    

A recent study found that extreme weather events related to climate change are already costing the world economy $1.2 trillion a year, which is 1.6% of global gross domestic product. The United States has begun to bear a significant share of those massive costs. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, over the past two years, the United States experienced 25 weather disasters that cost over a billion dollars each. These events caused the deaths of 1,100 people and their costs to the economy are expected to exceed $180 billion.

These extreme weather events included Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, wildfires that raged across Texas and the West, and the 2012 drought that afflicted two-thirds of the country. Superstorm Sandy alone is estimated to have cost $60 to $80 billion due to the devastating coastal impacts along the shorelines of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Over the last two years, more than 140,000 wildfires burned almost 18 million acres at a cost of over $2 billion. The historic droughts and severe weather also caused large losses in the agricultural sector. Federal crop insurance paid out almost $24 billion to farmers for crop losses in 2011 and 2012, with the vast majority of 2012 losses attributable to the drought.