GAO finds big U.S. costs from climate change

A federal report by the non-partisan agency finds billions of dollars already spent to address issues that may be related to climate change.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Oct. 24, 2017 at 9:29 AM
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Oct. 24 (UPI) -- A U.S. report found the costs associated with damage attributed to climate change could run up to $35 billion per year by 2050.

"The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses," a report published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office said.

An annual report from the World Health Organization and UNICEF said global hunger is on the rise, affecting 11 percent of the world's population, in part because of climate change. Speaking from Harvard University earlier this month, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde added that cooperation on climate change is critical because it's "a threat to every economy and every citizen."

A joint report from the United Nations, meanwhile, warned that climate risks would linger even if the measures outlined in the multilateral Paris climate agreement hold. Their report found it may be cheaper to spend on efforts necessary to keep the impact from a changing climate at bay when compared to the cost of rebuilding.

The GAO looked at the budget proposal outlined by President Donald Trump and found that, over the last decade, the government has incurred more than $350 billion in direct costs because of extreme weather and fire events, with more than half of that going to domestic disaster response and relief.

"The national-scale studies and many experts we interviewed suggested that climate change could result in significant economic effects in the United States, and the studies indicated that these effects will likely increase over time for most of the sectors analyzed," the GAO report read.

Trump has raised doubts about the causes of climate change and said his administration is reviewing its role in the multilateral Paris climate deal, which if abandoned, would leave the United States and Syria as the only two countries in the world sitting outside the agreement.

In terms of the economic impact from 2020-39, the GAO said energy expenditures would increase by as much as $11 billion because of the increased demand strains, while lost hours attributed to the effects of climate change could represent as much as $22 billion. Property and violent annual crime costs associated with an expected rise in temperature, meanwhile, go up by as much as $2.9 billion.

The GAO found, however, that some economic benefit could come from improved crop yields in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains regions, with gains also coming from an expected decline in fatalities attributed to colder weather in the Midwest.

The GAO's report came from a request from Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. It said that the office of the president should use the information on the potential economic impacts of climate change to find ways to reduce the risk.

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