State Department personnel working at embassies and consulates around the world face heightened safety and security risks from climate disasters–particularly in countries ravaged by storms, heat and drought, say federal watchdogs.
Investigators with the Government Accountability Office found that the risk to “diplomatic assets” is rising at many of the State Department’s nearly 300 posts in 180 countries. More than half the most-risk facilities are located in East Asia and Pacific.
” According to State, the increasing severity and number of natural disasters due to climate change increases the risk of damage for… overseas locations and real property assets (including the office buildings and support facilities that make up these posts),” GAO researchers discovered.
GAO, an independent agency, works for Congress.
The embassy facing the greatest climate risk, according to the report, is located in Manila, Philippines, where the State Department employs roughly 300 U.S. foreign service officers at a sprawling compound on Manila Bay. The embassy has flooded twice over the last decade, first from a 2012 typhoon and more recently from an extreme rain last August, GAO said.
In all, 32 embassies ranked in the highest category for climate disaster risk, from Apia, Samoa, to Valletta, Malta. Some of the State Department’s most important and strategic embassies include Baghdad, Baghdad, and Mexico City.
The American Embassy in Iraq is among six countries in the Middle East that are most at risk. Cairo, Egypt is also at greatest risk from extreme climate events.
The GAO report looked at seven types of climate disasters: tsunamis and extreme heat, wind, coastal flooding, riverine flood, landslides, and water security. The bureau also evaluated the risk of earthquakes, which aren’t considered climate disasters. According to the report, the number of State Department overseas facilities that are affected by extreme heat could increase more than twice from 2021 up to 2035,.
Investigators assigned risk scores to 294 embassies, consulates and other facilities with a combined property value of approximately $70 billion, GAO said. These scores were derived using risk screenings that were recently completed by the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations to meet President Joe Biden’s 2021 executive to assess climate change risks to national safety.
“OBO is responsible for acquiring sites, designing and constructing, operating and maintaining embassies, consulates and staff housing as well as supporting facilities that make up U.S. diplomatic post,” the report stated.
According to the agency, a typical embassy compound is in an urban area on a roughly 10-acre site. Security concerns often mean that U.S. staff housing is often located near or within the embassy grounds.
GAO stated that vulnerability factors could be specific to a consulate or embassy, such as the condition and age of the facilities and the ease of evacuation during a disaster, or countrywide. These include the availability of clean water and sanitation, access to health care, and the adequacy or reliability of a country’s power grid.
In an official response, GAO was asked by the State Department to provide “any regional observations and interpretations and conclusions” in the report. This would help inform the “anticipated growing trajectory and necessary resources” for OBO’s climate security, resilience, and climate security program.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News delivers vital news to professionals in the energy and environment industries.