Climate change projected to significantly increase wildfire suppression costs in the US

June 12, 2024

Federal report highlights rising wildfire suppression costs

According to a federal Climate Financial Risk report, wildfire suppression costs are expected to rise significantly due to climate change.

The report, which analyzed ten future climate scenarios, projects that by 2050, annual wildfire suppression costs will reach nearly $4 billion under moderate estimates.

By the end of the century, these costs could rise to nearly $5 billion annually.

In the most severe climate scenario, the costs could surge to about $13 billion per year.

As reported by Climate Financial Risk, the Mountain West states are particularly vulnerable.

Under moderate estimates, the amount of land burned by wildfires in these states is expected to double or triple by the end of the century due to climate change.

Jeff Prestemon, a researcher with the U.S. Forest Service and co-author of the report, noted that the analysis does not estimate the rising costs of wildfire damage.

Impact on communities and firefighting efforts

Wildfires cause extensive damage beyond the immediate costs of suppression.

Prestemon emphasized: “The wildfires do a lot more than just require action to control them and put them out.

“They damage houses, they disrupt communities, which is a central focus of firefighting.”

To mitigate wildfire risks, the U.S. Forest Service is actively working with communities and tribes.

Last year, the agency partnered with local entities to treat over 4 million acres of hazardous fuels across the country.

This effort includes prescribed burns and thinning flammable vegetation and brush, aiming to reduce the intensity and spread of wildfires.

Broader economic impacts of climate change

The report highlights the broader economic impacts of climate change, noting that climate-related disasters are becoming more frequent and severe.

Between 1980 and 2023, the U.S. experienced 376 weather and climate disasters, each causing at least $1 billion in damages.

In 2023 alone, there were 28 such events, the highest on record.

President Biden’s Executive Order 14030, signed in May 2021, underscores the federal government’s commitment to addressing climate-related financial risks.

The order mandates an annual assessment of the federal government’s climate risk exposure, which includes analyzing the impacts of extreme weather events on federal spending and revenue.

Federal budget implications

The increasing frequency and severity of climate-related disasters are expected to substantially impact the federal budget.

The report indicates that damages from extreme weather events will significantly increase federal relief and recovery costs in the coming decades.

This includes rising expenses related to crop insurance, coastal flooding, health insurance, and wildfires.

The federal budget is at substantial risk from expected lost revenues and increasing expenditures due to climate change damages.

These include physical damages to infrastructure, healthcare expenditures, instability of subsidized insurance programs, and growing disaster relief costs.

Achieving sustainable public budgets in a changing climate will likely require additional revenues or other expenditure reductions.

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