President Obama has said the Budget is “a roadmap to a future that embodies America’s values and aspirations.” Building and stewarding such a Budget over the long term requires a clear-eyed view of the challenges that put our aspirations at risk. No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in collaboration with the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), recently embarked on an effort to assess what we can quantify today with regard to the fiscal risks posed by climate change for the Federal Government. To date, this effort has yielded two primary conclusions: first, that our current understanding of the fiscal risks of climate change is nascent, limited in scope, and subject to significant uncertainty; and second, that the evidence available thus far indicates the fiscal risks to the Federal Government could be very significant over the course of this century without ambitious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and adapt our communities to a changing climate.
This report outlines the contours of fiscal risk through five program-specific assessments: crop insurance, health care, wildfire suppression, hurricane-related disaster relief, and Federal facility flood risk. These programs were assessed because they are directly influenced by climate change, they have strong links to the Federal Budget, and quantitative scientific and economic models regarding the likely magnitude of impacts were available. This report also considers potential impacts to Federal revenues.
The Current Picture of Fiscal Risk
Climate change is already affecting communities across the United States. The most recent National Climate Assessment (NCA) clearly established the sweeping effects of climate change, many of which are already evident in the lives of Americans. Fifteen of the sixteen warmest years on record globally have occurred between 2000 and 2015, and 2015 was the warmest year on record (NOAA, 2016a). The trend is continuing in 2016, with each of the first eight months in 2016 setting a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, dating to 1880. August 2016 marked the 16th consecutive month that the monthly global temperature record was broken (NOAA, 2016b), while September 2016 was surpassed only by record-breaking September 2015 (NOAA, 2016c). In addition, heat waves, wildfires and some extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, floods, and droughts have become more frequent and/or intense in recent years. While scientists continue to refine projections, it is clear that climate change will continue and its damaging impacts will intensify without considerable action to reduce GHG emissions and to respond with adaptive measures. Even with significant near-term emissions reductions, dealing with near- and mid-term impacts due to past and current emissions will still pose challenges.
The impacts of climate change will also affect the Federal balance sheet. For example, an increase in the frequency of catastrophic storms will require more disaster relief spending and flood insurance payouts. Rising seas and heavy rainfall events will prompt investments to protect, repair, and relocate Federal facilities. Changing weather patterns and extreme weather events will affect American farmers and the Federal programs that support their risk management. Climate impacts affecting the nation’s food, water, air quality, weather, and built and natural environments endanger the health of the American people and weigh on Federal health care programs. An increase in wildland fire frequency and intensity