Introducing the Aotearoa NZ Catastrophe Resilience Project

This post briefly introduces the Aotearoa NZ Catastrophe Resilience Project, our team including exciting new hire Dr Ben Payne, and outlines the aims, methods, and timeline of the project.

Why this project?

Global catastrophic risks include nuclear war, extreme pandemics, and supervolcanic eruptions, among other threats. Research, and recent experiences with disasters such as the Covid-19 pandemic and Russian invasion of Ukraine, indicate that should global catastrophes eventuate, the cascading global impacts could be severe. The consequences could be devastating for Aotearoa NZ, plausibly making it difficult to sustain industrial society. This runs counter to some views that ‘safe havens’ like NZ or Australia might be relatively less impacted in some global catastrophes.

The risk is that a major catastrophe disrupts climate, trade, or other global systems, to the point that industry is unable to function, leading to massive food, energy, manufacturing, and societal disruption.

The project draws inspiration from the concept of island refuges for mitigating existential risks to humanity. A suitably robust island might increase the probability that humanity survives even the greatest global catastrophes.

Project Aim

To understand the impact representative major global catastrophes might have on Aotearoa NZ, for example a Northern Hemisphere nuclear war. To deduce adaptive strategies and plans that might mitigate these effects, ensuring that industrial society can continue.

Project Team

The project team consists of three co-investigators. We will collaborate with Think Tanks, Academic Researchers, Policy Professionals, Industry, and the Public Sector through the 12-month duration of the project.

Dr Matt Boyd

Matt is an independent researcher who completed his PhD in philosophy. He founded Adapt Research in 2015. Matt has researched health, technology, and catastrophic risk for a decade and published over 40 peer-reviewed academic papers. His recent work has focused on national risk processes, nuclear winter, and global health security.

Professor Nick Wilson

Nick is a research professor of public health with research interests that include refuges to mitigate pandemic disease and nuclear war. Nick contributed to work for the Commission for the Future on Nuclear Disaster as far back as 1982. He has over 500 Medline-indexed research publications.

Dr Ben Payne

Ben is an experienced risk professional who completed his PhD in geography. Ben was Lead Scientific Officer with the Global Risk Research-Agenda Development Group of the UNDRR/International Science Council in producing A Framework for Global Science. He has also worked with Massey University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research.

Timeline

The project will begin in November 2022. Initial planning days will invite advice from risk professionals with established interests in global catastrophe and Aotearoa. Following planning there will be four phases:

  • Phase I will consist of the development of a National Risk Assessment risk profile for a representative global catastrophe (nuclear war/nuclear winter).
  • Phase II will involve workshops to assess knowledge gaps with respect to the risk profile, and design mixed method data collection using surveys and interview methodology. Some of these tools will be based on the 1987 NZ Nuclear Impacts Study.
  • Phase III is where we’ll reach out and survey knowledge holders across industry, the public sector and academia, including interviews. The aim is to collect data that paints a rich picture of the likely impacts of nuclear disaster on NZ society and industry, along with crowdsourced adaptive responses, mitigation strategies, and possible plans.
  • Phase IV will involve further workshops and a Delphi process to analyse the collected data and prioritise mitigation measures, this will include identifying those that might enhance business as usual.
  • Findings will be produced in the form of risk register entries, research papers, policy recommendations, and shadow Ministerial briefings.

Project Goals

The goal is to generate productive discussion, concrete solution ideas, and map a pathway to ongoing and robust analysis of global catastrophic and human existential risk and its relationship to Aotearoa NZ. We aim to connect our work in logical and, where possible, generalisable ways with catastrophe resilience work being undertaken across other island jurisdictions, with potential to leverage synergies with continental Australia, Tasmania, Indonesia, or others, in the future.

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