U.S. Government Funding of Climate Change

By Kenneth Haapala

As the nearby “Short History of Global Warming Fears” explains, the idea that mankind’s emissions of carbon dioxide will lead to catastrophic global warming was popularized in 1979 through the “Charney Report.” Since then, scientists have failed to find much physical evidence to support the report’s assumptions, but that failure has not stemmed from any lack of taxpayer support of research that looks for such evidence. The United States government has spent enormous sums on global warming/climate change issues, including science research, although the ocean of funding is so large, fed by so many rivers of tax dollars, that it’s hard to tally it all up.

Not all of this government funding goes to advocacy of climate alarmism, of course. But it would be hard for the federal government to spends billions of dollars a year on a controversial topic, with every penny of the spending based on the presumption that global warming is a serious crisis worthy of billions of tax dollars, and not have those billions make a powerful impression on the public. The persons in the public who would be most powerfully affected would be those hoping to obtain grants for their research, or tax subsidies for their businesses, or otherwise seeking to benefit from going along with the presumption that a crisis exists. Tens of billions of dollars are not exactly a small incentive, and as Robert Brulle said in the press release for his study, “Money amplifies certain voices above others and, in effect, gives them a megaphone in the public square.”1

The data provided here comes primarily from two government sources: (1) the Government Accountability Office (GAO), using data from the Office of Management and Budget; and (2) the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The GAO report covers Fiscal Years 1993 to 2010; the CRS report covers FY 2008 to 2014 (with FY 2014 estimated). The funding expenditures not only include regular annual budgeted amounts, but also large additional funding provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the “Stimulus Bill,” signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The Stimulus sent more than $26.1 billion in funding toward climate change programs, of which the GAO estimates about 2.5%, or $641 million, went to climate science.

Accounting for all these government billions is further complicated by international transfers from various U.S. government entities to international groups like the U.N. In 2016, questions arose in Congress about the legality of recent transfers, such as those sent to the U.N. Green Climate Fund. But my analysis will stop as of September 30, 2016, the end of FY 2016, before serious questions were raised about such transfers.

Additional complications arise from definitions of the various categories of spending included in the reports. For example, the summary of the 2011 GAO report states: “OMB reports funding in four categories: technology to reduce emissions, science to better understand climate change, international assistance for developing countries, and wildlife adaptation to respond to actual or expected changes.”

In addition, the summary reports that there are no clear definitions across agencies. Thus, the estimates are educated guesses, at best. I group these educated guesses of expenditures into two categories: (1) climate science; and (2) “other,” including efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and their presumed, but not demonstrated, effects.

More uncertainty in the numbers arises from the fact that the GAO report is based on a survey conducted from August 6, 2010, to September 24, 2010. “Of the 106 officials who were asked to participate, 73 responded to the questionnaire, for a response rate of about 69 percent.”

Several types of funding are covered in the broad classification of federal expenditures. Actual funding, or cash outlays, is a fairly clear type of support, and for this analysis, the actual or the enacted budget authority is used, except for 2014, where the requested amount is used.

But less clear are the second and third categories of federal support, because they involve tax expenditures. “Tax expenditures” are estimates of tax revenues that the government “loses” when the tax code allows taxpayers to reduce their gross income with specific deductions to arrive at a lower “adjusted gross income.”

And so economists typically say that the largest U.S. tax expenditure is the mortgage deduction for personal homes. But these kind of “expenditures” are generally not transferable and simply reduce the income that citizens’ report, which may or may not reduce anyone’s tax bill. Another form of tax expenditures are federal tax credits, which can be transferable. Generally, tax credits are used by corporations with large federal tax burdens to directly reduce the taxes they pay. In this analysis, I will calculate federal revenues lost, largely from tax credits, according to the numbers in the government reports from the GAO and CRS. These “expenditures” fall into the category of “other”—efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and their presumed effects. These expenditures are not included in the Climate Science category.

No reports to Congress from a government agency were found for the periods after Fiscal Year 2014, which ended on September 30, 2014. The amount for Fiscal Year 2014 is an estimate, and to cover FY 2015 and 2016, one must examine agency budgets, a tedious process. Further, in recent years the accounting for many agencies has become obtuse, with monies moving among entities for various purposes without notification to Congress. The complications are made worse because there have been no rigorous government agency audits in several decades. A 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office states:

“Three major impediments prevented GAO from rendering an opinion on the federal government’s accrual-based consolidated financial statements: (1) serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD), (2) the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal entities, and (3) the federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements. Efforts are under way to resolve these issues, but strong and sustained commitment by DOD and other federal entities as well as continued leadership by the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are necessary to implement needed improvements.”

This pathetic status of government accounting limits the reporting of federal expenditures on climate issues for years after FY 2013, which is why the numbers provided here for FY 2014 are estimated. After 2014, the budget for climate science spending by one entity is available: the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The expenditures of other government entities are clouded, and so for climate science only a minimum expenditure can be established—the actual amount may be significantly greater. For other climate change programs, the amounts are not generally available.

The Numbers

From FY 1993 to FY 2014, government reports show that annual spending on “climate science” grew from $1.31 billion to $2.66 billon, for a total of $42.49 billion. Of this total, $0.64 billion came from the stimulus bill. Annual expenditures in this category over the period increased over 200%. During the same period, “other” climate-related expenditures (including tax credits) grew from $1.05 billion to $8.94 billion, for a total of $104.29 billion, with $25.5 billion coming from AARA. The increase in annual expenditures in this category was 850%.

If we combine both categories, total expenditures for the period grew from $2.35 billion to $11.59 billion, for a total of $146.78 billion, with $26.14 billion coming from ARRA. The increase in total annual expenditures was 490%.

The amount going to international assistance via UN groups grew from $201 million to $893 million in 2014—a 440% growth in annual expenditures.

When the budgets for FY 2015 & FY 2016 of the U.S. Global Change Research Program are included, the total expenditures for “climate science” from FY 1993 to FY 2016 come to $47.56 billion, with international assistance amounting to $8.24 billion.

Constant Dollars: While the CRS report also gave the total annual expenditures of climate change in constant 2012 dollars, the GAO report did not give constant dollars. Since the index used by the CRS is not available on the web, I’ve used the Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to adjust GAO numbers to 2012 constant dollars. To assure a reasonable adjustment, several calculations were double-checked with CRS numbers. The error in the match sets was less than 1%.


After examining the reports, and removing double counting, calculations show that from Fiscal Year 1993 to FY 2014 total U.S. expenditures on climate change amount to more than $166 billion in 2012 dollars. By way of comparison, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the entire Apollo program, operating from 1962 to 1973 with 17 missions—seven of them sending men to the moon and back—cost $170 billion in 2005 dollars, which equals about $200 billion in 2012 dollars, if we use the Consumer Price Index to adjust that figure. In “fighting” climate change, the United States government is spending almost as much as it did on all the Apollo missions.

Kenneth Haapala is president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project and a contributor to the reports of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). He is an energy and economics modeler and past president of the oldest science society of Washington.

  1. http://drexel.edu/now/archive/2013/december/climate-change/#sthash.XUpcCmxp.dpuf