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Climate Change Funding and Management

Over the past 20 years, the federal government has spent billions of dollars to address climate-related risks. Coordination and planning are critical to effective and efficient efforts.

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Federal funding for climate change research, technology, international assistance, and adaptation has increased from $2.4 billion in 1993 to $11.6 billion in 2014, with an additional $26.1 billion for climate change programs and activities provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. As shown in figure 1, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has reported federal climate change funding in three main categories since 1993:

  • technology to reduce emissions,
  • science to better understand climate change, and
  • international assistance for developing countries.

Figure 1: Reported Federal Climate Change Funding by Category, 1993-2014

Reported Federal Climate Change Funding, 1993-2014

Note: OMB has also reported on federal funding for wildlife and natural resource adaptation since 2010. However, the data the agency reports in the adaptation category does not fully represent adaptation funding as it only includes data from the Department of Interior.  OMB reports Department of Interior funding for adaptation (adjusted for inflation) as follows: 2010 $71 million, 2011 $37 million, 2012 $92 million, 2013 $98 million, 2014 $112 million.

a OMB did not publically report climate change funding for these years. OMB provided data for 2007 and 2008 directly to GAO. 2011 data are from the Congressional Research Service.

b According to OMB's report, this amount is an estimate of budget authority for fiscal year 2013 as of June 21, 2013, and reflects the amount available for the year calculated as the appropriated amount minus reductions pursuant to the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Pub. L. No. 112-25) sequestration order issued March 1, 2013 and any known and applicable reprogrammings, transfers, or other related adjustments.

c Proposed budget authority, according to OMB's report.

As illustrated in figure 2, many federal entities manage programs and activities related to climate change. Each of these federal departments and agencies is operating under its own set of authorities and responsibilities and addresses climate change in ways relevant to its mission. In the context of providing climate-related information, the National Research Council observed that no single government agency or centralized unit could perform all the required functions, and that coordination of agency roles and regional activities is a necessity.

Figure 2: Selected Coordination Mechanisms for Federal Climate Change Activities

Note: This updated figure was provided to GAO by the Executive Office of the President in February 2015. The original figure was printed in GAO-11-317. See the original image here.

As a result of climate-related risks, fiscal exposure for the federal government has increased in many areas, including federal property and infrastructure, supply chains, disaster aid, and federal insurance programs. Consequently, Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks has been on GAO’s High Risk List since 2013.

Over the past several years, federal agencies have made progress toward better organizing across and within agencies and among the various levels of government. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, for example, is a confederation of the research arms of 13 federal departments and agencies that carry out research and develop the nation’s response to climate change. In 2014, it published the National Climate Assessment report, which reviews observed and projected changes in climate in the United States, the effects of these changes, and options for responding.

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