Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the UK National Preparedness Commission was our latest key note speaker in the Toward ISNGI 2022 Webinar series. Lord Harris addressed the topic: Systemic Infrastructure Resilience to Strategic Challenges. The Webinar was scheduled to coincide with the penultimate day of #COP26 (11th November) and address a topic highly relevant to the COP26 and UNFCC #RacetoResilience theme.
Lord Harris wove a masterful narrative, in which he drew on real events, to emphasis the true societal and economic value of preparedness and resilience; and how and why that value is so easily and frequently overlooked by politicians, policy makers, and others. The main questions covered were: What should we prepare for? How much preparedness is enough? How do we finance the necessary investment? What are the likely societal and economic impacts of failing to prepare?
Addressing the topic of 'what' should we prepare for
There are a series of global trends likely to impact directly or indirectly on us all over the coming years. First and foremost is, of course, climate change. This is likely to lead to more extreme weather events both in terms of frequency and extremity, at home and abroad. Floods, droughts, storms, heat waves and heavy rainfall will become more intense, and more frequent. This will mean that some parts of the world will become increasingly uninhabitable, driving huge movements of refugees and leading to shortages of food and water with an impact on global supply chains; producing political instability that will spill over national borders.
Addressing the topic of 'why' we should prepare
Eight months ago, the Texas power failure was an illustration of the vulnerability of a modern highly industrialized nation. It highlighted the failure to invest adequately in the maintenance of critical infrastructure. It highlighted the reliance on ever more complex and interconnected systems. It demonstrated the dangers of cascade collapse. Such vulnerabilities exist around the globe. Moreover, as in Texas no one entity is responsible for mitigating them. Some crises will arise suddenly and unexpectedly requiring urgent action others will develop over decades; we need to be better prepared for whatever may occur.
Addressing the societal and economic impacts of failing to prepare
In the case of COVID, the speed with which the norms of society unravelled with deserted city centres, businesses shut down, enforced social distancing, and mask wearing all of that came as a shock to many.
Addressing the opportunity cost of failing to prepare
Being resilient and preparing for risks is not cost free, but not preparing is worse. The consequences for our populations, especially the most vulnerable, are severe. As John F Kennedy put it: ‘There are risks and costs to action but they are far less than the long-range costs of comfortable inaction.’
Addressing the question how much preparedness is enough?
As David Oman said: ‘What we prepare for we deter. What we actually experience by way of Events is, alas, what we have not prepared for.’ The reality is that our nations our cities and communities and our organisations must have preparedness and resilience designed in; it has to be part of society's fabric.