US Disaster Relief Tied to Climate Change Topped $350B in Last Decade

(CN) – A nonpartisan congressional investigative agency has released a report detailing the escalating costs of climate change-related weather events, and says the federal government must do more to grapple with fiscal problems caused by global shifts in climate.

The Government Accountability Office used data from several federal agencies to estimate that the federal government has spent more than $350 billion over the last decade on disaster relief following weather events – including recent wildfires and hurricanes – costs that will rise sharply in coming years, according to the agency.

“A November 2016 assessment by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Council of Economic Advisers found that recurring costs that the federal government incurred as a result of climate change could increase by $12 billion to $35 billion per year by mid-century and by $34 billion to $112 billion per year by late-century, the equivalent of $9 billion to $28 billion per year in today’s economy,” said the authors of the 35-page study.

The report comes at a time when President Donald Trump’s administration is retreating from his predecessor’s policies to curtail the emissions scientists say compound climate change, while silencing scientists and other government officials tasked with combating the global problem.

The report is less interested in debating the scientific or policy details of climate change mitigation. Instead, it details the ways in which the federal government must prepare for the effects of extreme weather events like floods, hurricanes and wildfires, all of which the report says will become more common and intense.

Over the last decade, the government spent $205 billion on federal disaster relief, $90 billion for flood and crop insurance, $34 billion for wildfire disaster management and $28 billion for repairs and maintenance to federal infrastructure and federally managed lands or waterways.

The report said the federal government and the executive branch in particular must do more to reduce the risks to federal assets in the coming years.

“Adaptation measures to protect infrastructure, for example, include raising river or coastal dikes to protect infrastructure from sea level rise, building higher bridges, and increasing the capacity of stormwater systems,” the report says.

The report says the Southeast, Midwest and Great Plains are likely to suffer the most severe economic impacts because of coastal property damage in places like Florida and Georgia, while crop yields are expected to suffer under several climate models.

However, the American West, with its susceptibility to wildfire is not exempt from the dangers of a changing climate, as extended and more severe droughts could also hinder water security in the region, according to the report.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine gave remarks on the report from the Senate floor on Monday, saying the government “cannot ignore the impact of climate change on our public health, our environment, and our economy.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said: “My colleagues no longer have to take it from me – the Government Accountability Office tells us climate change will cost taxpayers more than half a trillion dollars this decade, and trillions more in the future unless we mitigate the impacts.”

Trump has repeatedly called climate change a hoax and withdrew the United States from the United Nations Paris climate agreement in June. The United States and Syria are the only two countries that have not signed the international accord aimed at reducing global emissions.

Trump also appointed Scott Pruitt to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Rick Perry to the Department of Energy, both of whom maintain heavy ties to the fossil fuels industry and question the scientific consensus on human contributions to climate change.

On Monday, three EPA scientists slated to present their 500-page report on the biological implications of climate change at a conference in Rhode Island were pulled from the conference roster at the last second at the request of their agency.

 

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