World at risk

The first session focuses on the why this work is important. The impacts. These sessions are generally full of doom and gloom as we set out all that is going and can go wrong. These can be really hard to take in, this is when the sense of being overwhelmed can become apparent.

The Minister for Emergency Management, Murray Watt opened the conference, outlining the new government’s ambitions relating to reducing disaster risk. He made the strong point that we need to do better and transform. One of the key actions is to unlock the Emergency Response Fund that would make $200 million a year, up from the $50million. This is pleasing, as it is something that we called for when the ERF was created. It’s what many of us, including the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience, and the Insurance Council of Australia have been calling for, for the best part of a decade.

Tom Kompas is a mathematician and economist with ANU and Uinversity of Melbourne. He says this is usually a conversation stopper. His presentation stops conversation in a different way, as he outlines the impacts of climate change, which are disturbing. He speaks about  $610trillion of damages to 2100. This reduces a countries income, significantly. Extreme weather is on the increase, extreme fire activity in all continents outside of Antarctica. He points out that we think events such as the recent fires and floods cost in the order $5Billion. With new modelling, taking in biodiversity loss, loss in productivity these events are likely to be in the order $100billion. He expects us to have these scale events every 4/5 years.  Cumulative damages up to 2050 to exceed $1.89trillion. These are big numbers, and they roll off the tongue, but we have to think, what else can we do with that money. Better education and health care, lift people out of poverty, protect nature etc. These are the costs. The big damages are coming, there is no vaccine for climate change. Mitigation is the key. The longer you wait, the harder is it, the steeper the curve to climb. What is the best local thing you can do to address these issues?  What can you do so that this information can influence decision makers?

Marco Toscana-Rivalta from UNDRR takes us through the Global Assessment Report. For those that don’t know it, the GAR is a disaster nerd’s heaven, a compendium of disaster risk issues facing the world, and what we can do to avoid it. Human action is creating greater and more dangerous risk. As the world becomes more interconnected, risk cascade across geographies. By 2030, global disasters will increase by 40% ie 540 per year, and middle and lo income countries will lose 10 times more of their GDP than high income countries. The world is not on track to tackle risk. Economic costs have increased by 145% from the 1990s. These costs undermine social and ecological systems. The shift needs to come where we need to measure what we value, which goes beyond economic impacts. The framework for this is understanding values, knowledge, and rules. We undervalue climate risk, and social impacts. We need to recognise the role of people’s perceptions, and design decision making to take this into account. Risk analytics are a tool but not a panacea. We need to reconfigure governance and financial systems to work across silos and deign in consultation with affected people. There needs to be a new risk language, there needs to be greater participation, transparency and citizen dialogue in risk decision making to accelerate learning.

We move to the panel session, with Brendan Moon from Queensland Reconstruction Authority, Ramana James from IAG and Lisa Gibbs from University of Melbourne. Brendan speaks about how Queensland had to adapt very quickly and have drawn on experience from all over the country and the globe. Their experience has changed dramatically over the past 2/3 years with catastrophic disaster, the major floods in northern Queensland and now the most recent floods with 72 councils affected. He speaks about being in a permanent state of recovery, so we need to do something differently. It requires a whole of community, whole of society approach. He acknowledges that we are sprinting just to keep up at the moment. We are still not considering some of the systemic risk issues, energy, food supply. Locally led gives us the best outcomes, but that capacity is reduced quickly. Support is needed for those communities. To address this, the importance of local and regional resilience strategies comes to the fore. Lets ask people what they need, what are the issues. Lets shorten the distance between local action and state action.  Ramana spoke about are we being transformational, do we have the right people in the room? We need to buddy up with a finance person, to make sure they are being transformational. There has been good action to move private sector capital to address climate risk, but we are unable to unlock private capital for resilience. The thinking is siloed, but need to move away from this to make systemic changes. Lisa spoke about the need for evidence. He also wanted to spend the $4.5billion in the Emergency Response Fund to retrofit homes that are at risk. Lisa acknowledged that there is an increasing sophistication around understanding  the mental heath and wellbeing impact in disasters. These impacts undermine people’s ability to work, function and maintain relationships. 10 years after Black Saturday there was still elevated levels of distress in individuals and communities. Whole communities are scarred, this needs to factored into the national impact plan. There are multiple impacts, if people are in recovery and then another disaster impacts, they are at greater risk for significant mental health impacts. Lisa also reminds us that the challenges of recovery process can be in equally impacting as the impact itself. We are all a combination of traits that contribute to risk and contribute to resilience.  How do we promote positive outcomes? Connected communities are so important. Natural environment is a protective factor. We need move from a model that looks at single event, compounding resilience capacities.

Its a big set of challenges, in numbers, in outcomes, in outputs. In the end, its about people.

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