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Climate Change: Analysis of Reported Federal Funding

GAO-18-223 Published: Apr 30, 2018. Publicly Released: May 30, 2018.
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Fast Facts

How much does the federal government really spend on climate change programs?

According to Office of Management and Budget reports, federal climate change funding was $13.2 billion across 19 agencies in 2017. In the 6 agencies we reviewed, we found that 94% of their reported climate change funding went to programs that touch on, but aren’t dedicated to climate change, such as nuclear energy research.

We also found that OMB reports should include information on programs with climate change-related financial risks, such as disaster relief. We recommended that OMB provide information on these risks and further analysis in future funding reports.

Researchers in Alaska Use the Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility to Better Understand Temperature, Weather and Climate

This photo shows researchers in cold weather gear working on a scientific instrument.

This photo shows researchers in cold weather gear working on a scientific instrument.

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What GAO Found

In its reports to Congress, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reported that annual federal climate change funding increased by $4.4 billion from fiscal years 2010 through 2017. For example, reported annual funding for technology to reduce emissions increased by about $3.5 billion, as seen in the figure below. Although OMB included information on federal fiscal exposure to climate change in the President's budgets for fiscal year 2016 and 2017, it did not provide this information in its most recent climate change funding reports. For example, the reports did not include information on programs—such as disaster assistance—whose costs were likely to increase due to climate change which would have provided more complete information for making spending trade-off decisions for climate activities. According to GAO's prior work, more complete information on fiscal exposures and the long-term effects of decisions would help policymakers make trade-offs between spending with long-term and short-term benefits.

Reported Federal Climate Change Funding by Category- Fiscal Years 2010-2017

Reported Federal Climate Change Funding by Category- Fiscal Years 2010-2017

Note: The figure presents enacted budget authority except for fiscal years 2011, 2013, and 2017. For fiscal years 2011 and 2017, OMB reported proposed budget authority. For fiscal year 2013, OMB reported final operating level funding. Funding is reported in nominal dollars, which are not adjusted for inflation.

Based on its review of the budget justifications of six agencies representing 89 percent of OMB-reported funding, GAO identified few programs (18 of 533) whose primary purpose is to address climate change. The remaining programs were multi-purpose—the budget justifications included other program goals in addition to addressing climate change. The 18 programs represented about 6 percent of these agencies' reported climate change funding for fiscal year 2017.

According to GAO's analysis, the 18 primary purpose climate change programs GAO identified are fragmented across four federal agencies, but the programs serve different purposes, target different audiences, or operate at different time periods and scales, which minimizes potential overlap or duplication. Additionally, agency program managers collaborate through the U.S. Global Change Research Program—a coordinating entity—to avoid potential negative effects from fragmentation. However, climate change programs outside GAO's review have not been analyzed for potential fragmentation, overlap, or duplication.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since 1993, OMB has reported over $154 billion in funding for federal climate change activities, spread across the government—raising questions about fragmentation, overlap, or duplication.

GAO was asked to review federal climate change funding. This report examines (1) reported federal funding from 2010 to 2017 and the extent to which reports on such funding are clearly linked to the federal fiscal exposure to climate change; (2) the extent to which selected agencies reported climate change funding that supports programs where addressing climate change is the primary purpose; and (3) the extent to which the primary purpose programs are fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative.

GAO reviewed OMB climate change funding reports; analyzed budget justifications for six agencies—the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, and Energy; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation—representing 89 percent of OMB-reported climate change funding in fiscal year 2014; analyzed documents on primary purpose programs against GAO's fragmentation, overlap, or duplication criteria; and reviewed GAO's prior work on fiscal exposures.


GAO is making two recommendations to OMB for enhancing the information it provides to Congress, in conjunction with future funding reports. OMB agreed with the findings but disagreed with GAO's recommendations, which GAO continues to believe are valid as discussed in the report.

For more information- contact Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Management and Budget The Director of OMB should provide, concurrent with any future climate change funding reports to Congress, funding information for federal programs with fiscal exposure to climate change. This information should include costs to repair, replace, and improve the weather-related resilience of federally-funded property and resources; costs for federal flood and crop insurance programs; and costs for disaster assistance programs. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
in March 2022, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2023, which formally accounted for the fiscal risks of climate change in two new assessments, Federal Budget Exposure to Climate Risks and a new section in the Long-Term Budget Outlook focused on climate change. Additionally, in April 2022, OMB released a white paper, Climate Risk Exposure: An Assessment of the Federal Government's Financial Risks to Climate Change that provided further detail on federal fiscal exposures to climate change. Specifically, OMB assessed areas where the federal government may experience significant climate change-associated fiscal risk including increased costs for crop insurance, coastal disasters, federal healthcare spending, federal wildland fire suppression expenditures, federal facility flood risks, and flood insurance. In April 2022, OMB and the Council of Economic Advisers also released a white paper, Climate-Related Macroeconomic Risks and Opportunities that outlined how better modeling of the broader economic impacts of climate change can help to quantify economic and fiscal impacts of climate change and climate action.
Office of Management and Budget The Director of OMB should provide, concurrent with any future climate change funding reports to Congress, a detailed analysis of federal climate change programs it considers to be fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative. (Recommendation 2)
In a July 2018 letter, OMB reiterated its disagreement with this recommendation, as described in the Agency Comments and Our Evaluation section of the report. OMB also stated that it does not anticipate providing a separate, detailed analysis of federal climate change programs that it considers to be fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative. We continue to believe that because OMB collects and reports information on federal climate change funding, OMB is uniquely situated to conduct an assessment of potentially fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative programs across the full range of agencies engaged in climate change activities and that by providing this information to Congress in conjunction with future funding reports, OMB could help decision makers more effectively target limited resources. As of November 2023, OMB has not provided a climate change funding report to Congress since the issuance of our April 2018 report.

Full Report

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