The Unfunded Mandate of Climate Change

by Fran Sussman

A recent post here on CD&S argued that greater attention should be paid to the literature on economic impacts of climate change in the National Climate Assessment.  That argument has been taken a step further in a report from the Center on American Progress (CAP), coauthored by Fran Sussman (CD&S) with Cathleen Kelly (CAP) and Kate Gordon of The Next Generation (TNG).  The report, Climate Change: An Unfunded Mandate, argues that, by failing to take aggressive action on climate change, Congress is imposing an unfunded mandate on the budgets of state, local, and tribal governments—the costs of repairing and rebuilding infrastructure, treating illness, making institutional change, and preparing for the future by making human systems and infrastructure more resilience to projected climate change.

The report recommends that Congress enact legislation to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and support alternative sources of energy and energy efficiency, and provide funding to support community efforts to proactively prepare for expected climatic changes.

The report points out that a key step is recognizing that failure to take action imposes a burden on current and future generations that should be explicit in deliberations about climate legislation.  The report makes several recommendations that take aim at the heart of our lack of understanding—not only of the severity of the economic damages of climate change, but also of the types of information needed by all levels of government to make intelligent investment, legislative, and regulatory decisions about climate change.

  • As with other legislation it considers, Congress should assess the $$ value of the unfunded mandate that it is imposing on state, local, and tribal governments.
  • Congress should appropriate funding for the US Global Change Research Program, as it prepares for the next National Climate Assessment, to assess the existing economic literature, develop socioeconomic scenarios and projections to assist researchers, and develop and encourage the use of good practice guidelines for assessment.
  • The effects of legislation on the carbon budget are as important as the effects on the $$ budget. Proposed legislation should undergo a carbon audit to estimate its effect on net greenhouse gas emissions, and be subject review and revision if it increases emissions—or does not decrease emissions. [See a related post on treating carbon like the federal budget.]
  • Congress must adequately fund federal programs that provide state and local governments with the climate change risk information and planning tools they need to make intelligent decisions to promote resilience.

Additional description of each of these recommendations is available in the Report, which is available on the CAP website.  Highlights of the report are posted on The Next Generation website.

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