Climate Information: A National System Could Help Federal, State, Local, and Private Sector Decision Makers Use Climate Information

US Government Accountability Office

Why GAO Did This Study

Over the last decade, the federal government incurred over $300 billion in costs due to extreme weather and fire, according to the President’s 2016 budget request. Costs are expected to grow as rare events become more common and intense due to climate change, according to the National Academies. State, local, and private sector decision makers also drive fiscal exposures, as they are responsible for infrastructure paid for with federal funds or eligible for disaster aid. GAO’s 2015 High-Risk update prioritized improving federal efforts to provide the best available climate information and technical assistance to help decision makers use the information to build resilience in up front.

This report examines (1) the extent to which federal efforts meet the climate information needs of decision makers; (2) examples of how other countries organized climate information systems; (3) whether and how federal efforts could be improved; and (4) the strengths and limitations of different options to provide climate information. GAO analyzed reports; reviewed systems in three other countries; and interviewed stakeholders with knowledge of climate information.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Executive Office of the President (EOP) direct a federal entity to develop a set of authoritative climate change projections and observations and create a national climate information system with defined roles for federal agencies and nonfederal entities. Relevant EOP entities provided only technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate.

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