Jo joined Toka Tū Ake EQC in 2019 after 13 years in the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. There she led development of the National Disaster Resilience Strategy, as well as other strategic national policies and programmes, so it was a natural step to take up the role of Chief Resilience & Research Officer at Toka Tū Ake, and continue the disaster resilience journey.

Jo’s team at Toka Tū Ake aims to understand New Zealand’s natural hazard risks better and to encourage New Zealanders to take steps to reduce the impact of those risks. This includes everything from understanding where and how hazards might happen, how our built environment reacts to different natural hazard events, how we quantify and assess risk, and how to reduce the impacts of natural hazards on people and property.

Jo is strongly motivated by tackling complex social issues and progressing improved outcomes for New Zealanders. Her future focus is on ensuring scientific research and data gets into the hands of people making key decisions on policy, planning, and practice, to ensure a more risk-informed, resilient future.

Presenting with Sarah-Jayne McCurrach:

Our risky future: can we tolerate it?

The frequency and intensity of natural hazard events in 2023 shocked the global reinsurance market. Severe storms, floods, wildfires and drought made the 2023 reinsurance renewal the most challenging in a generation. It means a bleak outlook for the global market in 2024, and we will inevitably see increased reinsurance costs here and in many other countries highly exposed to natural hazard risk.
Climate induced and exacerbated disasters are here. We can no longer ignore consecutive or simultaneous disasters that overlap or occur in rapid succession. Even after 2023, we can see how the impacts of these events have impacted wellbeing, complicated recovery and hampered the government’s ability to be prepared for the next event.

Now is the time to change the model: funding and planning to reduce risk, not funding and planning to respond and recover.
Our approach of 'red zoning’ post-event stresses communities and can result in poor risk-based planning and decision-making as we race to provide answers and solutions. Ultimately, we generate more risk, or miss opportunities to reduce risk. These decisions are impacting us now and they will continue to impact future generations.

We need to challenge the failings in our ability to plan smarter and build stronger. If not, our future will see insurers replacing planners: forcing decision-making by increasingly unaffordable premiums, and, ultimately, insurance withdrawal. We will see increased social, environmental and built environment losses, and increasing financial hardship of communities.

Planning matters for insurance. Insurers consider the level of hazard risk, the effectiveness of hazard risk management policy and planning, and other ‘market factors’ including the cost of capital. Failure to manage risk through policy and planning means a higher price on risk, which inevitably affects the availability and affordability of insurance for communities, and perhaps, the willingness of businesses to invest in a city/district.

Land use planning needs to be more determinative and more representative of community risk tolerance – to risk, to impacts, and to insurance cost and availability. Pre-event (land use) recovery planning needs to happen now to ensure we are well placed to respond rapidly and effectively, with hazard risk and risk tolerance in mind, post-event. Risk tolerance is an emerging priority and consideration for all sectors.

We should be able to do this. We are a small country, with good connections between stakeholders. We have the data and information to be able to plan where we shouldn’t be building, and how we should be building to accommodate hazard risk. We have the means, we have the resources; it’s time to stop talking about reducing risk, of tolerating our risky future, and actually do something about it.

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