Climate Change Adaptation: Federal Efforts to Provide Information Could Help Government Decision Making

GAO-12-238T Published: Nov 16, 2011. Publicly Released: Nov 16, 2011.
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Climate change is a complex, crosscutting issue that poses risks to many existing environmental and economic systems, including agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems, and human health. A 2009 assessment by the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) found that climate-related changes--such as rising temperature and sea level--will combine with pollution, population growth, urbanization, and other social, economic, and environmental stresses to create larger impacts than from any of these factors alone. According to the National Academies, USGCRP, and others, greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will continue altering the climate system into the future, regardless of emissions control efforts. Therefore, adaptation--defined as adjustments to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate change--is an important part of the response to climate change. This testimony addresses (1) the data challenges that federal, state, and local officials face in their efforts to adapt to a changing climate, (2) the actions federal agencies could take to help address these challenges, and (3) federal climate change strategic planning efforts. The information in this testimony is based on prior work, largely on GAO's recent reports on climate change adaptation (GAO-10-113) and federal climate change funding (GAO-11-317). These reports are based on, among other things, analysis of studies, site visits to areas pursuing adaptation efforts, and responses to a web-based questionnaire sent to federal, state, and local officials.

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