US embassies face growing risk from climate change, government watchdog says
- December 2, 2022
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State Department officials working in embassies and consulates around the world face heightened security risks from climate-related disasters — especially in countries hit by storms, heat and drought, federal regulators say.
Investigators with the Government Accountability Office found that “diplomatic assets” are at increasing risk in many of the State Department’s nearly 300 posts 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 increases the risk of damage to … foreign sites (posts) and real estate assets, including the office buildings, ancillary facilities, and employee housing that comprise these posts,” GAO researchers found.
GAO is an independent agency working for Congress.
The embassy, which faces the greatest climate risk, is in Manila, Philippines, according to the report, where the State Department employs about 300 U.S. field agents at a sprawling compound on Manila Bay. The embassy has been flooded twice in the past decade, first by a typhoon in 2012 and more recently by extreme rain last August, GAO said.
A total of 32 embassies were classified in the highest category for risk of climate catastrophe, 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 American embassy in Iraq is one of six most at risk in the Middle East. Cairo, Egypt is also among the countries most affected by extreme climate events.
The GAO report examined seven types of climate disasters: tsunamis, extreme heat, extreme winds, coastal flooding, river flooding, landslides, and water security. The bureau also assessed the risk of earthquakes that are not considered climate-related disasters. Between 2021 and 2035, the number of State Department facilities affected by extreme heat could more than double, the report says.
Investigators have assigned risk assessments to 294 embassies, consulates and other entities valued at about $70 billion, GAO said. The findings were derived from risk assessments recently conducted by the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) to comply with President Joe Biden’s 2021 executive order for a government-wide assessment of climate change risks to national security.
“OBO has the leading role in the acquisition of sites, design, construction, operations and maintenance of the embassies, consulates, staff housing and support facilities that comprise U.S. diplomatic posts,” the report said.
According to the agency, a typical embassy campus is located in an urban area on about 10 hectares. For security reasons, the accommodations of US employees are often located nearby or even on the embassy premises.
According to GAO, vulnerability factors can be specific to an embassy or consulate, including the age and condition of facilities and ease of evacuation during an emergency, or countrywide, such as B. the adequacy of a country or region’s electricity grid, availability of clean water and sanitation, and access to health care.
In an official response, the State Department asked GAO to provide “all proposed regional observations, interpretations and conclusions” in the report to inform the “anticipated growth trajectory and required resources” for OBO’s climate security and resilience program.
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