Toespraak van minister Van Nieuwenhuizen tijdens de Water Science for impact conferentie in Wageningen

Toespraak van minister Van Nieuwenhuizen (IenW) tijdens de Water Science for impact conferentie in Wageningen op 18 oktober 2018. Aanleiding was   het 100-jarig bestaan van Wageningen University & Research (WUR). De toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Mol,

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today.

I’d like to start by congratulating Wageningen University & Research on its centenary. 100 years of education and research, with international allure. You’ve seen exponential growth in student numbers, especially over the past 20 years. Including more students from abroad. But that’s not surprising, when you look at what your focus areas are: society and well-being; food, feed and bio-based production; and natural resources and the living environment. Wageningen is going to the core of today’s biggest issues.

A knowledge institution that knows and shows the importance of practical application. An institution that delivers top-notch scientific solutions that can have a real impact on our daily lives. In short, an institution we can truly be proud of!

I’m also delighted to see that there are almost as many women working here as men. Something else to proud of!

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get down to business.

Because we have a very important matter to discuss. A matter around which all life revolves. And that’s water. Water covers 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface. Water makes up 60 per cent of the human body. And, worldwide, the challenges that climate change poses are almost all water related.

That certainly applies in the Netherlands. In the past, we did everything we could to protect ourselves from water. But now we’re using the force of nature to our benefit. We’re building with nature – not against it. That’s why your university’s mission statement − ‘To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’ − is so close to my heart.

There are countless examples of how these words are put into practice:

  • The Blue Deal you just mentioned − a Dutch alliance that aims to give 20 million people all over the world access to clean water.
  • The Marker Wadden, where nature reserves are being created on new, man-made islands.
  • The sand engines along the North Sea coast – large deposits of sand used as coastal defences.
  • The IJsselmeer coast in Friesland and the Houtribdijk dam.
  • And the Oosterschelde oyster reefs that help prevent erosion.   

In fact, this last project tackles 3 problems at once, if we take the delicacies in account.   

All these initiatives are important. And your research institute is involved in all of them. We work together well. And I’m very grateful for that.
Your conference is entitled ‘Water Science for Impact’. I see professionals here from many disciplines. And many of you have travelled here from other countries. So you’ve already taken the first important step of coming together. It’s been proved that innovation happens when many people with many different interests and viewpoints join forces.

The title of this speech is ‘Working together for impact’. Let me explain how I picture this partnership and the impact it can have.

1 of the most urgent challenges right now is climate adaptation. And you all know better than anybody how closely that ties in with water science.

Climate adaptation is a global challenge. Water always seeks the lowest point. But that point is getting higher and higher. Now is the time to prepare ourselves for that.

Last Tuesday –October 16th  – saw the official launch of the Global Commission on Adaptation. The commission will work to accelerate the global agenda for climate adaptation. And to get everyone to understand why it’s so vital.

I initiated this international commission because I knew there was no time to lose. Under the leadership of Ban Ki-moon, Bill Gates and Kristalina Georgieva, we’re going to draw up a global action agenda. I’m looking forward to the commission’s recommendations for action. But most of all, I hope that we’ll succeed in mobilising people.

We work together closer to home, too.

In the Netherlands we have a Delta Programme to tackle the biggest water-related challenges – like water security, climate adaptation and water availability. It helps us prepare for the future. For rising sea levels, a changing climate and extreme weather. We work together at many different government levels and with many different organisations.

Knowledge institutions, water authorities, businesses and government also work closely together in the National Water and Climate Knowledge and Innovation Programme to improve our understanding of water and climate.

Last spring − as part of this national programme – you held a successful conference on water and climate adaptation, here on this campus. No matter how complex and wide-ranging the topic is, you’re always able to explain it to others in a clear and engaging way. And that’s how you increase social involvement. That too is a great achievement.

There’s a lot of knowledge and expertise available. And we know that cross-pollination of ideas is essential when it comes to innovative strength. That’s why we’re also joining forces in the Delta Approach to Water Quality. We’re also working on a knowledge catalyst through a knowledge-boosting programme for water quality.

Deltares, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, the Water Cycle Research Institute and Wageningen Environmental Research – all here today – are going to collaborate on this project. They will be joined by interest groups and engineering firms – who will not only share their own practical knowledge but who will also help put the institutions’ knowledge into practice.  

Together we’re working on solutions to make and keep our water clean. It’s not only about wastewater purification. It’s also about making sure that nutrients, pesticides and emerging pollutants like pharmaceutical residues and microplastics don’t end up in wastewater in the first place.

Doctors, hospitals and pharmacies are closely involved in the multi-actor approach to prevent such contamination. And it’s beginning to bear fruit. The knowledge-boosting programme will help us apply this approach on a broader scale, so that in the future we can work more effectively, more efficiently and more rapidly.

Another question we’re exploring in the knowledge-boosting programme: how do toxic substances affect ecosystems? Up to now, this important question has received too little attention.

  • The Water Cycle Research Institute is searching for the best analytical method for pinpointing certain types of pollution.
  • Deltares is looking at what parts of particular substances are absorbed by organisms and how this knowledge can be used to accurately calculate the effects of these substances.
  • Wageningen University & Research is going to examine the toxicity of mixtures.
  • And the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment is researching the effects of toxic substances on aquatic life.

By working together with consultancy firms, we’re able to immediately apply the knowledge that we gather and collate. This unique mix of parties and areas of expertise is essential for success. We don’t only look beyond the boundaries of individual disciplines, we also combine agendas. Such as agriculture, water and food.

There will be 9 billion of us on the planet by 2050. We’ll need 5,000 cubic kilometres of fresh water worldwide for agriculture alone. That’s about 60 times a full Lake Geneva!

What’s more, the climate is set to become warmer, rivers will provide less fresh water and the rising sea level will threaten freshwater supplies.

All of this demands innovative solutions that address several challenges at once.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s all about joining forces. Knowledge institutions, businesses and government, working together. What we in the Netherlands call the ‘Triple Helix’ or ‘Dutch Diamond’ approach. Or, as you − Professor Mol − rightly said: a circle of inclusiveness, co-creation and innovation. We need to look beyond our own horizons and shape the future together.

Nobody has a glass ball. But we all know that we face enormous challenges. And I’m confident we can tackle these challenges together.
I wish you all an inspiring and successful conference.

Thank you.