What the GAO found
Disaster costs are expected to increase as certain extreme weather events become more frequent and intense due to climate change, as observed and projected by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Academies of Sciences, engineering and medicine. The GAO Disaster Resilience Framework can serve as a guide for analyzing federal action to facilitate and promote resilience to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. The framework is organized around three guiding principles—information, integration, and incentives (see figure)—that can help Congress and federal agencies improve federal climate resilience planning and implementation.
Figure 1: GAO Disaster Resilience Framework Principles
Information. Congress and federal agencies can help decision makers access authoritative and understandable climate information. For example, in November 2015, the GAO reported that the federal government needed a whole-of-government approach to provide decision makers with reliable climate information. The GAO recommended that the Executive Office of the President (EOP) designate a federal entity to develop and update this information and designate a federal entity to create a national climate information system. EOP neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and had not implemented them as of March 2022.
The integration. Congress and federal agencies can help policymakers integrate analysis and planning to take cohesive and coordinated resilience actions. For example, in March 2021, the GAO reported that the Department of Energy did not have a department-wide strategy to improve the resilience of the power grid to climate change risks. The GAO recommended that the department develop and implement such a strategy. The department has accepted this recommendation in principle, but the measures it proposes do not fully address it.
Incentives. Congress and federal agencies can make de-risking investments more viable and attractive. For example, in September 2021, GAO identified a series of policy options that the Federal Highway Administration could adopt to encourage states and localities to improve the climate resilience of federally funded highways. The GAO has suggested that Congress direct the agency to implement one or more of these options and give it statutory authority to do so.
Why GAO Did This Study
The increasing number of natural disasters in the United States and reliance on federal assistance to deal with them are sources of climate-related federal fiscal exposure. Limit the federal government’s fiscal exposure by better managing climate change risks has been on the GAO’s high-risk list since 2013, in part due to the rising costs of federal disaster response and recovery efforts. For example, from fiscal years 2015 to 2021, some disaster relief appropriations totaled $315 billion.
GAO has already found that improving climate resilience could help limit future costs. Improving climate resilience means taking steps to reduce potential future losses by planning and preparing for potential climate hazards. Agencies have taken some steps, particularly in the areas of climate resilience planning.
This testimony focuses on how Congress and federal agencies can improve climate resilience planning and implementation by applying GAO principles. Disaster Resilience Framework. This story is based on the findings and methodologies of GAO’s Climate Resilience reports from May 2011 to September 2021.