GAO finds other countries prepare for climate change better than U.S.

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The United States can learn from other countries’ efforts to shore up defenses against climate change and limit disaster response costs, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The report released yesterday looked at steps taken to adapt to climate change by five foreign governments: the European Union, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-Pa.), who requested the report, noted in a statement that he introduced legislation earlier this Congress to integrate climate concerns into U.S. government programs. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate but has made little headway in either GOP-controlled chamber.

“While various countries across the globe have embraced climate mitigation and resiliency strategies, the United States has remained slow to respond,” Cartwright said. “Congress should pass this bill and then take further steps to address the risks of climate change.”

All the countries GAO studied had laws on the books designed to improve their climate resilience. They were also spending public money; all but Britain have created dedicated funding streams devoted to climate adaptation. The European Union has committed to spend at least 20 percent of its budget for 2014 through 2020 on adaptation and mitigation combined.

The Netherlands has designated €1.2 billion ($1.4 billion) through 2028 to reduce the low-lying country’s exposure to flooding and to improve the infrastructure of its cities. And the climate-vulnerable Philippines has created a People’s Survival Fund to especially help farmers cope with changes linked to warming.

The countries have also taken steps to integrate climate change into their broader disaster mitigation systems and programs. The Philippines, for example, has aligned its national climate change adaption plan with its disaster risk reduction plan. Countries have also established plans to track progress on adaptation and mitigation goals.

The Obama administration has used executive authority to require agencies to integrate adaptation into their operational planning. The president issued an executive order establishing a federal flood risk management standard in January last year that effectively requires state governors to account for climate change in their disaster planning in order to receive certain Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.

It has also established working groups to better coordinate between agencies on adaptation. But those steps and funding for adaptation efforts may not survive if the next administration has significantly different views on climate change.