* Report urges coordinated federal, state, local planning
* Fewer Americans see global warming as big problem -poll
WASHINGTON, Oct 22 (Reuters) - As Congress considers curbs on carbon dioxide pollution, a U.S. report on Thursday urged the White House to prepare now for flooding and other natural disasters brought by global warming.
Federal agencies, working with Congress, state and local governments, should "develop a national strategic plan that will guide the nation's efforts to adapt to a changing climate," said a report by the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress.
John Stephenson, director of GAO's natural resources and environment office, told a congressional panel that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases may have significant effects, including threats to coastal areas from rising seas.
The GAO found there was no coordinated national approach for dealing with such problems.
While government has been slow to get ready, Stephenson said, "Natural disasters such as floods, heat waves, droughts or hurricanes raised public awareness of the costs of potential climate change impacts."
A survey of government officials, GAO said, found there was limited money for climate change planning, as agencies put higher priority on other concerns.
The GAO report came amid signs that more of the U.S. public is dismissing scientists' warnings of calamity.
According to a Pew Research Center poll released on Thursday, 35 percent of Americans say global warming is a very serious problem, down from 44 percent in April 2008.
Over the past year, the United States has been preoccupied with the severe economic downturn, which has put other concerns on a back burner. However, the Pew poll found that half of those surveyed favor setting limits on carbon emissions, even if they lead to higher prices.
Representative Edward Markey, chairman of a House of Representatives global warming panel, recalled the government failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans four years ago.
"Katrina foreshadows the consequences of climate change if we do not make the necessary preparations," he said.
Markey, a Democrat, was a leading force behind House legislation passed in June that would cut U.S. smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases by 17 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels.
A similar effort is facing tough opposition in the Senate and might not be voted on this year.
Representative James Sensenbrenner, the senior Republican on Markey's committee, said recent weather patterns show a global cooling, not warming.
He said Congress shouldn't waste its time with the "cap and trade" approach Democrats want to implement to lower emissions by allowing companies to trade a dwindling number of pollution permits.
Instead, Sensenbrenner said Congress should focus on "adaptation" steps.
Eric Schwaab, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said his state has taken such steps, including restoring natural shoreline buffers and limiting growth in new areas.
With an extensive coastline, Maryland could see a 2.7-foot to 3.4-foot rise in sea level by 2100, Schwaab said, causing a range of problems.
Editing by David Alexander
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