US embassies face increasing risk from climate change, says government watchdog

State Department staff working at embassies and consulates around the world face heightened security risks from weather disasters, particularly in countries ravaged by storms, heat and drought, federal watchdogs say.

Investigators with the Government Accountability Office found that the risk to “diplomatic assets” is increasing in many of the nearly 300 State Department positions in 180 countries. More than half of the highest risk facilities are in East Asia and the Pacific.

“According to the State, the increasing number and severity of natural hazards due to climate change increase the risk of damage to … overseas locations (posts) and real property, including office buildings, support facilities, and the residences of the staff that make up these posts,” the GAO researchers found.

GAO is an independent agency that works for Congress.

The embassy facing the greatest climate risk, according to the report, is in Manila, Philippines, where the State Department employs approximately 300 US foreign service officers at a sprawling compound on Manila Bay. The embassy has flooded twice in the past decade, first from a 2012 typhoon and most recently from extreme rainfall last August, the GAO said.

In all, 32 embassies were placed in the highest climate disaster risk category, from Apia, Samoa, to Valletta, Malta. Others include some of the State Department’s largest and most strategic embassies, such as Beijing, Baghdad and Mexico City.

The US embassy in Iraq is one of six in the Middle East facing the greatest risk. Cairo, Egypt is also among the most vulnerable to extreme weather events.

The GAO report examined seven types of weather disasters: tsunamis, extreme heat, extreme wind, coastal flooding, riverine flooding, landslides, and water security. The office also assessed the risk of earthquakes, which are not considered weather disasters. Between 2021 and 2035, the number of overseas State Department facilities affected by extreme heat could more than double, according to the report.

The researchers assigned risk scores to 294 embassies, consulates and other facilities with a combined property value of about $70 billion, the GAO said. The scores were derived from risk assessments recently completed by the Department of State’s Office of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) to comply with President Joe Biden’s 2021 executive order for a whole-of-government assessment of the risks of the climate change for national security.

“OBO has the lead role in site acquisition, design, construction, operation and maintenance of embassies, consulates, staff housing, and support facilities that comprise US diplomatic posts,” the statement said. report.

According to the agency, a typical embassy compound is located in an urban area on a site of approximately 10 acres. Often, US staff housing is located near or even on embassy grounds due to security concerns.

The GAO said vulnerability factors can be specific to an embassy or consulate, including the age and condition of facilities and the ease of evacuation during a hazard, or nationwide, such as the adequacy of a country or region, the availability of clean water and sanitation, and access to health care.

In an official response, the State Department asked the GAO to provide “proposed regional observations, interpretations, and conclusions” in the report to help inform the “anticipated growth trajectory and necessary resources” for the climate security and resiliency program. from OBO.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission of POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environmental professionals.

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