Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Congress' 'Watchdog' Agency Urges Federal Response on Costly Impacts

Hill 'watchdog' agency urges federal action on climate change impacts, citing $350 billion spent in last decade.

Dollars and cents (Credit: yaleclimateconnections.org) Click to Enlarge.
The Government Accountability Office reported that the costs to address the after-affects of extreme weather, fire, and other factors related to climate change are likely to increase beyond the $350 billion spent in the last decade.  The independent and nonpartisan congressional agency recommended that the Executive Office of the President “identify significant climate risks and craft appropriate federal responses.”

Not long after that fall report, Moody’s Investor Service announced that it is adjusting its criteria to make climate change risk an important factor in weighing the credit worthiness of the cities and states it rates.

If the Trump administration was listening, there’s no sign it’s backed off moves in the opposite direction.  The administration appears committed to doing away with an Obama administration requirement that climate change risk be considered for federally funded projects.  In December, Trump’s first National Security Strategy did not include climate change as a key threat, as earlier versions had.  And the National Defense Strategy, scheduled for release in January, is expected to remove mentions of climate change.

Gary Yohe, an environmental economist at Wesleyan University in Connecticut who has served on the International Panel on Climate Change and on the National Climate Assessment, said he is “not at all” surprised by the findings in the GAO report.

“He does not include projections of future climate in any of his decisions,” Yohe said of President Trump.  “So he’s going to make some really big mistakes.  He’s going to put infrastructure and rebuild roads in places that have been damaged by extreme weather and it’s going to happen again.”

Yohe joins others saying it’s time to re-think how we assess risk by switching from the common actuarial norm of what’s happened in the past to risk management – assessing future scenarios that include projected climate change effects.

“You don’t protect against the worst possible outcome,” Yohe said.  “But you don’t just look at what the median is going to do over the next 20 years.  You look at some of the ‘dark tales’ above the median which would cost you much more trouble.”

Trump policies notwithstanding, a number of U.S. towns, cities and whole states are doing just that.  When it comes to climate change, they’re sticking with the approach that the public is going to need to pay now or pay later, and it’s a whole lot cheaper to pay now.

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