Government Accountability Office adds Climate Change to High-Risk Issues

The government accountability office has long since kept track of issues that it considers high-risk to the United States. In February 2013, two new high-risk issues were added to the list, including Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks and Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data.

These high-risk issues are placed on the list for a variety of both qualitative and quantitative reasons. Some of the qualitative issues include the risk of public health and safety, national security, economic growth, and/or citizens’ rights. Quantitatively, a minimum of $1 billion must be at risk in areas such as the value of major assets being impaired, revenue sources not being realized, or major agency assets being lost, stolen, damaged, wasted, or underutilized. Finally, measures must be taken of the current and future actions that will be performed in order to effectively reduce the risk.

Climate change causes high-risk to the U.S. federal government as a property owner, as a insurance provider, and the ability to deliver technical assistance to state and local governments and disaster aid to citizens. One way to minimize the risk is by climate change adaptation, which is defined by the report as, “adjustments to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate change,” which will be used as “a risk-management strategy to help protect vulnerable sectors and communities”. Other areas that the GAO listed to be addressed to protect fiscal exposure caused by climate change include addressing federal flood and crop insurance programs and improving and updating environmental satellites.

Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data is the second of the newest high-risk issues listed. According to the GAO, the data gathered by satellites is, “critical to weather forecasters, climatologists, and the military to map and monitor changes in weather, climate, the oceans, and the environment”. Many satellites are aging and will soon be needing replacement.  The new satellites will improve the quality and range of data collected over a wider area.  There are several areas that need to be addressed to minimize data gaps, including:

  • Extending support for legacy satellite systems so that their data may be available if necessary
  • The time and resources that should be allotted to improve satellite models so that they assimilate data from alternative sources
  • Whether to pursue international agreements for access to additional satellite systems and how best to resolve any security issues with the foreign data
  • When and how to test the value and integration of alternative data sources
  • How these preliminary mitigation plans will be integrated with the agency’s broader plans for sustaining weather forecasting capabilities

There are a total of 30 high-risk areas being addressed, all of which are discussed in the GAO’s report.

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