New Report Recommends Improving Federal Climate Information to Aid in Resilience Planning

Study Requested by Cantwell and Others Recommends Creating One Central Location for National Climate Information and Data

December 8, 2015
Washington, D.C. – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a new report requested by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and others on how the federal government provides climate information to decision makers to inform planning.

Addressing these challenges is critical to supporting communities and the nation experiencing changes across all geographies and sectors of the economy. The report concludes that providing climate information is particularly critical to preventing and mitigating long-term federal costs and fiscal exposures associated with climate change.

Preparing for and reducing the impacts of climate change, as well as improving access to climate information for businesses, governments and communities, is a priority for Ranking Member Cantwell.

“Climate inaction is costing taxpayers money at all levels,” Sen. Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources said. “Good information should be available to decision makers at the local, state and federal levels, so to better prepare for the impacts of climate change.”

The federal government has already incurred more than $300 billion in costs due to extreme weather and fire, and costs are expected to grow as natural disasters become more common and intensify due to climate change. Access to climate information, tools and technical assistance are critical to informing federal, tribal, state, local and private sector decisions. Governments aren’t alone in their exposure to climate-related risks. Businesses are increasingly concerned about climate impacts and risks, such as infrastructure and property damage, supply chain disruptions, commodity price volatility, and natural resource vulnerability and availability. Easily accessible and usable data are needed to help make decisions based on the risks of climate change impacts.

The report, Climate Information: A National System Could Help Federal, State, Local and Private Sector Decision Makers Use Climate Information, identifies a lack of authoritative and easily accessible federal data on climate and its impacts as a major challenge—despite recent efforts to develop publicly available climate information on the government’s DATA.GOV portal. The GAO report recommends that the federal government establish a national climate information system with federal leadership, develop authoritative federal data and data quality guidelines, and better define the roles of federal agencies and partnerships with nonfederal entities.

Currently, the federal government’s climate data “are fragmented across individual agencies that use the information in different ways to meet their missions,” according to the GAO analysis. A previous GAO study earlier this year “found that federal, state, local and private sector decision makers may be unaware that climate information exists or be unable to use what is available.”

Sen. Cantwell requested this report with Reps. Frank Pallone (NJ-06) and Matthew Cartwright (PA-17), asking GAO to examine:

  • The extent to which federal efforts meet the climate information needs of federal, state, local and private decision makers;
  • Examples of how, if at all, other countries have organized systems to meet the climate information needs of decision makers;
  • Whether and how the U.S. federal efforts to provide climate information could be improved; and
  • What options exist to provide climate information to U.S. decision makers, and the strengths and limitations of each option.

This report builds on other efforts by Sen. Cantwell to support a more resilient nation by addressing and reducing the impacts of climate change. Last month, Sen. Cantwell and Sen. Collins requested that GAO conduct a comprehensive study on the costs and risks to the U.S. government from climate change and to evaluate policy actions that may be taken by the federal government to address these costs and risks. Sen. Cantwell also recently secured the votes to move a bill to address long-term water and drought resilience in the state of Washington out of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.  Cantwell is committed to ensuring that communities across the country are armed with the best scientific information, tools and institutions to ensure their long-term climate resilience.

Read the full GAO report here.