Climate-related weather: Quick-Fix damage limitation ideas

In the wake of the carnage wrought by the January flooding throughout the North Island and the devastation the subsequent cyclone and downpours brought to other parts of the country, what might be a few quick fixes? Management asked New Zealand leaders for their thoughts on the one thing New Zealand could do today, or pretty immediately, to mitigate the damage future extreme weather events might bring.

Simple wins
Cathy Parker, Director, Adrenalin Publishing: While there are obviously some major infrastructure changes needed, there also seem to be some simple wins that could be had. In fact, it seems amazing they were not in place. 

The most obvious would be having a supply of Starlink terminals available at either police stations or Civil Defence in regions likely to be cut off (in fact, ideally all regions). 

Also having a legal requirement for cell sites to have better standby capacity – preferably generators. Phone exchanges used to have to have this and with cellphones being the main form of communication this would seem a good disaster-proofing option. 

Use AI to help predict extreme weather events
Graeme Muller, CEO of NZTech: Ideally, with the increased use of data and artificial intelligence we can get better at predicting the scale of extreme weather events and where damage is most likely to occur. 

Rainfall and climate records, plus crowd-sourced data, can be tested with flood simulations. 

If we can improve predictions for natural disasters in advance, it will also enable more targeted responses.  

For example, if the data and modelling show certain areas are at greater risk we can move people to safety earlier, activate damage control faster (for example, stream diversions) and enable smart investment to mitigate future impacts. 

Honest conversations
Tim Grafton, chief executive, Insurance Council of New Zealand Te Kāhui Inihua o Aotearoa: Local community leaders should ask where the areas are that are most vulnerable to natural hazard risks and lead honest conversations with those communities about the options for making them more resilient, so communities themselves can be part of the solutions. 

Business continuity plans
Rabobank NZ CEO Todd Charteris: Following the devastating weather events earlier in the year, we’ve had a number of discussions with our Client Councils (groups of the bank’s farming clients located across New Zealand who work with us to tackle key industry and community challenges in farming and agribusiness) to address how we can best support our impacted clients, as well as what we can do to help mitigate the impacts of future natural disasters. 

One of the topics that has come up in these discussions is Business Continuity Plans for farming businesses and we’re currently looking at what more we can do to help farmers and growers develop robust BCP for their operations. 

As part of this, we’re keen to engage with the insurance industry with a view towards improved sharing of data which would enable farmers to better understand the specific climate change risks for their businesses.

Strong, social networks
Mindy Leow, Acting CEO, B Lab Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand: While we cannot prevent natural disasters from occurring, we can be better prepared to respond when they do happen. Building cohesive and connected communities is one way to reduce the impact of disasters, when resources need to be mobilised quickly and effectively to prevent loss and rebuild afterwards. 

Developing strong social networks needs to involve all stakeholders in the system – from citizens to government and, importantly, businesses too. 

We can look to the growing B Corp community in Aotearoa, which now has 100 Certified B Corporations that meet high standards of environmental and social performance and are united in their vision for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy. 

When the floods occurred, our B Corps responded by providing essential products, services and support to each other and their wider networks. B Corps offer an example of what can be achieved when communities unite with shared values and goals and work together to address some of our biggest challenges. 

Practical ideas – insurance/cash/solar
Rebecca Ingram, CEO of Tourism Industry Aotearoa: Make sure your insurance is adequate – a number of tourism businesses were operational but because roads are cut off they had no customers. This has created some complications for accessing business interruption insurance. 

Have some backup cash. When power is down payment options go old school. Always ensure you have enough cash for a tank of petrol and basic groceries that will support you to survive away from home for a few days. 

Consider adding solar panels to your home. There are number of interesting options now with organisations that install panels, and then you pay a fee for them monthly. The solar powers your home and then any extra goes into the grid. A battery means that in an outage you won’t lose all your power. It also supports reducing household’s carbon footprint. 

Identify champions
BusinessNZ Energy Council Executive Director Tina Schirr: Change doesn’t happen overnight – especially in the energy sector. Take for example our transition to a more sustainable energy future. There’s also always going to be trade-offs when dealing with such a broad area of the economy and its impact on the climate.

That said, in terms of immediate relief, the government should make full use of knowledge found within the energy sector. Ministers, agencies and other parts of government will have a wealth of support from energy companies and experts looking to assist national recovery efforts.

Identifying champions within the sector now is a great first step. While good things take time, it’s the connections we can make now that will have a positive impact on the ground.   

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