Climate Change: Improved Federal Coordination Could Facilitate Use of Forward-Looking Climate Information in Design Standards, Building Codes, and Certifications (GAO-17-3)

In this report the Government Accountability Office (GAO) urges the Commerce Department to create a program to share new climate data with organizations that set standards for contractors, architects, housing and highway developers and other construction and engineering groups. In their analysis, GAO found that design standards and building codes generally use historical climate observations rather than forward-looking climate information. In the long-run, this could cost the government billions of dollars in repairs, insurance, and disaster relief. Therefore, the federal government should facilitate and encourage these organizations to proactively take climate data into account.

For this study, GAO looked at 17 standards-developing organizations including the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, and the International Code Council. These groups have an important role to play determining design standards, building codes, and certifications that many infrastructure planners (including federal, state, and local policymakers) adopt to encourage buildings and infrastructure that are safe, sustainable, and economically sound. GAO found that these organizations have, for the most part, not integrated forward-looking climate data into their decision-making frameworks due to a number of challenges ranging from a lack of interest from their members, to technical challenges in knowing how to use and interpret climate information.    

GAO also analyzed what actions federal agencies have already taken to help standards-developing organizations address these challenges. They found that federal agencies including the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provide climate information and some guidance to these organizations, but more is needed. Specifically, federal agencies that play a role in developing and adopting standards could improve interagency coordination to provide usable climate information. They could also work directly with standards-developing organizations to put climate data to use. These actions could reduce federal exposure to climate risks.


This report was requested by Representative Matthew Cartwright (D-Pa).

Publication Date: November 2016 (Rel. Date January 3, 2017)

Related Organizations:

  • U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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