How Much Money is Spent on Climate Change Research?


According to the GAO (Government accountability office), annual federal climate spending has increased from $4.6 billion in 2003 to $8.8 billion in 2010, amounting to $106.7 billion over that period. The money was spent in four general categories: technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, science to understand climate changes, international assistance for developing countries, and wildlife adaptation to respond to actual or expected changes.

Technology spending, the largest category, grew from $2.56 billion to $5.5 billion over this period, increasingly advancing over others in total share.

Data compiled by Joanne Nova at the Science and Policy Institute indicates that the U.S. Government spent more than $32.5 billion on climate studies between 1989 and 2009. This doesn’t count about $79 billion more spent for climate change technology research, foreign aid and tax breaks for “green energy.”

The 2018 GAO report found that, while the Office of Management and Budget has reported that the federal government spent more than $154 billion on climate-change-related activities since 1993, much of that number is likely not being used to directly address climate change or its risks. Many of the projects reported as “climate-change-related activities” are only secondarily about climate change.


Since fiscal year 2010, annual appropriations laws have generally required the President to report on use of climate change funds. The laws have generally required the President to report all federal agency funding, domestic and international, for climate change programs, projects, and activities to the congressional appropriations committees within 120 days of submitting the President’s annual budget request.

In response to these requirements, OMB (The Office of Management and Budget) has issued three reports to congressional appropriations committees. Taken together, the three OMB reports describe climate change funding for fiscal years 2010 through 2017. Generally, these reports included federal agency funding for the following three categories:

Clean energy technology, which includes the research, development, and deployment of technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the reliance on fossil fuel, such as clean energy systems, geothermal, solar, wind, biomass, nuclear, and hydropower (water). It also includes technologies, programs, and processes to increase energy efficiency or reduce energy consumption, such as building efficiency, more effective transmission or distribution of electricity, and vehicle technologies that improve engine efficiency or fuel economy.

Science, which encompasses the activities of USGCRP (The U.S. Global Change Research Program) and includes research, modeling, and observing activities to better understand climate change; efforts to analyze the cumulative effects on the environment of human activities and natural processes; and programs to provide climate information to policymakers and the public, in part to inform climate change adaptation decisions. USGCRP also reports annually on funding for climate change science among certain participating agencies in its Our Changing Planet reports.

USGCRP’s participating agencies include the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, and U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Global Change Research Act of 1990 required the Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering, and Technology to report annually to Congress the “expenditures required by each agency or department for carrying out its portion of the USGCRP,” among other things. Although this reporting requirement was terminated by statute in 2000, USGCRP continues to provide this information.

International Assistance, which uses bilateral and multilateral assistance tools to address three global climate change policy pillars: adaptation, clean energy, and sustainable landscapes. For example, international assistance helps countries invest in energy efficiency programs to reduce emissions, as well as activities to help communities adapt to climate change.

OMB reported climate change funding increased by $4.4 billion from fiscal years 2010 through 2017OMB reported annual climate change funding across all categories increased from $8.8 billion in fiscal year 2010 to $13.2 billion in proposed budget authority for fiscal year 2017 in nominal dollars (about 50 percent, or 34 percent after adjusting for inflation), with reported agency funding for clean energy technologies (i.e., technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) accounting for most of the $4.4 billion increase.

Clean Energy Technology

DOE programs accounted for most of the $3.5 billion increase in annual clean energy technology funding. Specifically, funding for DOE’s fusion, sequestration and hydrogen research (about $1.9 billion), energy efficiency and renewable energy programs ($656 million), as well as its carbon capture and storage and power systems research ($564 million) accounted for about 88 percent of the $3.5 billion funding increase from fiscal years 2010 through 2017, with a portion of the increase offset by decreases in other DOE programs, according to our analysis of OMB reports for this period.

Funding for National Science Foundation ($486 million) and DOD ($417 million) research accounted for another 26 percent of the funding increase.


NASA programs accounted for most of the $653 million increase in annual science funding. In particular, funding for NASA’s science programs accounted for about 84 percent ($546 million) of the$653 million funding increase from fiscal years 2010 through 2017, based on our analysis of OMB reports. Funding for DOE’s biological and environmental research accounted for about another 12 percent ($77 million) of the funding increase.

International Assistance

Department of State and Department of the Treasury programs accounted for the greatest increases in annual international assistance funding. Specifically, State economic support funding increased by $428 million and Treasury funding for the Green Climate Fund increased by $250 million, with half of the increase offset by decreases in other programs.

The Scenarios in South Asia

With a population of 1.43 billion people, one-third of whom live in poverty, the South Asia developing members face the challenge of achieving and sustaining rapid economic growth to reduce poverty and attain other Millennium Development Goals in an era of accentuated risks posed by global climate change. Economic losses in key sectors, such as agriculture, energy, transport, health, water, coastal and marine, and tourism, are expected to be significant, rendering growth targets harder to achieve.

According to the various economic analysis report, the total climate change cost in South Asia will increase over time and will be prohibitively high in the long term. Without global deviation from a fossil-fuel-intensive path, South Asia could lose an equivalent 1.8% of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, which will progressively increase to 8.8% by 2100.

The model suggests that the Maldives will be hardest hit in GDP loss, while Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are projected to face 2.0%, 1.4%, 1.8%, 2.2%, and 1.2%, respectively, loss of annual GDP by 2050.

However, should the global community take actions along the Copenhagen–Cancun agreements to keep the global mean temperature rise below or within 2 degrees Centigrade, the region would only lose an average of 1.3% of GDP by 2050 and roughly 2.5% by 2100?

What GAO Recommends?

GAO is making two recommendations to OMB for enhancing the information it provides to Congress, in conjunction with future funding reports. OMB agreed with the findings but disagreed with GAO’s recommendations, which GAO continues to believe are valid as discussed in the report. Climate change presence is felt all across the globe, but the ongoing research needs more global collaboration and support.

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