Sarah-Jayne McCurrach is the Head of Risk Reduction and Resilience at Toka Tū Ake EQC, where she is responsible for leading Toka Tū Ake EQC’s natural hazard risk management programme, which has a strong focus on risk reduction. This sees her team advocating for improved evidence-based co-ordination, leadership and action across New Zealand’s Natural hazard risk management system, specifically in regard to smarter land-use, resilient buildings, risk tolerance and influencing how data is used and understood for smarter decision making and improving hazard risk literacy. She has led numerous, successful, national-level projects and programmes of work, to improve hazard risk management decisions and outcomes in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally. Her work includes ensuring science and information is translated at the national, local and regional level. She has worked in Chair roles within UNESCO’s Pacific Tsunami Warning System (PTWS), to further Pacific wide understanding of tsunami risk. Her passion is ensuring science and research is used to make risk-based decisions for our future, by enhancing our polices and practice. In support of this she been part of the research team for the Earthquake and Tsunami theme within the Resilience to Nature’s challenges - National Science Challenges. She is driven by building strong, knowledge aware communities regarding hazard and risk, so all New Zealanders are empowered to make their own choices regarding the risks they face.

Presenting with Jo Horrocks:

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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