Public policy seminars

The Motu Public Policy Seminar series provides a forum for informed debate on important public policy issues. 

Our seminars are accessible to a wide audience, and are attended by people from diverse backgrounds who want to stay informed on economic, social and public policy research. The seminars are presented by the Motu Senior Fellows and Affiliates, as well as other top visiting academics from within New Zealand or around the world.

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The seminars are free to the public, and there is no need to register to attend. More information about previous seminars, including slides and associated papers, is available at the Past Public Policy Seminars page.

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Global experiences on managing disaster risk – rethinking NZ's policy approach

Speaker: Elizabeth Longworth, DRR Consultant, former Director of the United Nations Office on Disaster Risk Reduction

12.00 - 1.30pm, Monday 19 June, Royal Society, 11 Turnbull Street, Thorndon

risk lowresOver the past year, New Zealand has suffered floods, drought, cyclonic winds, wild fires and recurring earthquakes. As a country heavily exposed to natural hazards, New Zealand’s prognosis is for an ever-increasing tally of disaster loss and damage.

Globally, the accelerating trend in disaster losses poses a critical challenge, undermining the capacity of many countries to make the capital investments and social expenditures necessary for their sustainable development:

  • The expected annual average losses from earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical cyclones and river flooding are estimated at USD 314 billion in the built environment (UNISDR).
  • If the impact on people’s wellbeing is measured in terms of consumption loss, the annual cost rises to USD 520 billion (World Bank).
  • If other hazards such as drought, and the rural environment affecting sectors such as agriculture, were included, the figures escalate.
  • If the impact of disasters is measured in terms of human welfare and setbacks to economic development and social progress, then approximately 42 million Human Life Years are lost each year from internationally reported disasters.

Currently, New Zealand is among the many countries that emphasise managing the disaster, rather than reducing the risk. It has been estimated that an annual global investment of USD 6 billion in disaster risk management strategies would generate USD 360 billion worth of benefits in terms of reducing risk. On that basis, New Zealand might expect a return on investment of 60 times for every dollar spent on reducing disaster risk. In terms of creating shared value, investment in disaster risk management has co-benefits of strengthening resilience, competitiveness and sustainability.

The seminar will ask how New Zealand could capitalise on such a value proposition by taking a more prospective approach to disaster risk. This would require a significant and strategic shift in thinking and effort. The state of New Zealand’s ‘risk governance’ will be critical.

BIO: Elizabeth is an expert on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and building resilience to natural hazards, with eleven years in multilateral organisations leading economic and social development programmes, including DRR. From 2012-14, Elizabeth was The Director of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, called UNISDR, in Geneva. UNISDR produces the UN Global Assessment Report on DRR and is an authority on risk assessment, risk management, setting risk indicators, and disaster preparedness and recovery.

She joined UNISDR to manage the multi-stakeholder process of global consultations and preparations for the new fifteen year international agreement on DRR (the 2015 Sendai Framework of Action). This sets the international agenda on how to prevent disaster losses and damage, and serves as a blueprint for regional, national and local resilience strategies and actions. Elizabeth chaired the United Nations High Level Programme Committee on DRR and Resilience, comprising 29 UN agencies. The Committee was responsible for developing the UN Action Plan on building resilience to and preventing loss of life, assets and livelihoods from natural disasters. She was also engaged in the UN process to develop the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and on the interaction between DRR and climate change.

Prior to joining UNISDR in Geneva, from 2003-12 Elizabeth held several senior leadership and management positions at UNESCO in Paris, the United Nations Organisation for Education, Culture, the Sciences and Communication. Before leaving NZ, Elizabeth was the Director of growth and innovation strategies for the ICT Sector at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (formerly Industry New Zealand) and was in-house counsel at The Reserve Bank.

This seminar is held in association with National Science Challenge: The Deep South 

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Previous Seminars

You can find audio files and slides from previous Public Policy Seminars here.


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Our Public Policy Seminar Series is generously sponsored by The Treasury and Statistics New Zealand.