Not without reason.
The concept of a circular economy is gaining growing support throughout the world. The main reasons for this are concerns about the Earth as a life-support system, about the huge impact of climate change on this system, and about the state of the environment more generally. This support, among others from large businesses in the form of commitments to so-called Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) standards, is a source of hope. For the water sector the challenges remain unchanged when it comes to water safety and water security, while due account needs to be taken of a changing and increasingly unpredictable climate and more extreme weather events. But this is not all. The water sector also faces new risks emerging from other corners, such as growing antibiotic resistance or decreasing cyber security. Altogether, this seems to mark the beginning of an entirely new era. An era in which we will have to agree to realistic courses of action in response to a number of global phenomena, the main lines of which meet with general scientific consensus.
That said, there is a lurking danger worldwide that the trust in reason and science, gradually built up since the days of the Enlightenment, will stagnate. With the introduction of ‘alternative facts’, science could represent little more than one opinion among others. This strikes at the very roots of a global society, within which the scientific method has delivered great prosperity to us. That these developments also preoccupy the scientific community is evidenced by the recent March for Science, during which scientists in different countries have manifested their concern about the rising anti-scientific sentiment among parts of the population. And yet science – certainly in times of great uncertainty – is pre-eminently equipped to distinguish between fact and fiction, and to help the political sphere and society as a whole solve complex problems. Given the scale of a number of the special complex problems that have arisen, the world cannot do without the commitment and brainpower of the international scientific community.
The Netherlands, and particularly the Republic of the United Netherlands in the mid-17th century, was moreover a radical precursor to the Enlightenment. For me the establishment of many of our waterboards at that time – based on rational considerations, well-understood self-interest, and the willingness to deliberate and work together – can even be seen as one of the earliest products of the Enlightenment. That experience taught us a great deal as a society, and it is a history we are proud of. Similarly, we too must tackle today’s national and international water agenda with passion and energy, while always maintaining reason at the helm. In this effort, solid scientific foundations are vital as is mutual solidarity between science and society. This demands involvement, commitment and a willingness to cooperate from both sides.
Over the past year we have, as KWR, further embedded ourselves in society. We did this by conducting innovative projects, both at home and abroad, in collaboration with a large number of both public and private sector partners. In the public domain, our international Watershare network grew through the addition of new members. With Allied Waters we shaped a close public-private partnership with a number of large internationally operating companies. We are currently pursuing these initiatives with vigour.
I hope you will read this annual review with as much enthusiasm as we feel when applying our science to the projects we carry out with our shareholders, clients and partners. You are warmly invited to work with us whenever you identify an opportunity to do so!
Prof. Wim van Vierssen PhD
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