Making waves about coastline conservation, and plastic waste

Plus personalised medicine, and combating floods and droughts with better water management...
14 February 2024
Presented by Chris Smith
Production by Chris Smith.


Ocean waves crashing against a headland


This month the connections that human inhabitants have to the coast, why we're still in the middle of a worsening extinction crisis despite international laws and treaties designed to protect nature, the promise of pharmacogenomics and personalised medicine, the plastic pollution problem and how to tackle it, and why water management in the face of a changing climate needs more than just a single solution.

In this episode

Ocean waves crashing against a headland

00:45 - Dynamic coastlines

Why we should see the coast, and our relationship with it, as a connected continuum...

Dynamic coastlines
Tom Spencer, University of Cambridge

Coastlines provide homes, livelihoods and food for a significant and growing proportion of the world's population. And when we move there, we inevitably inflict changes on the environment. But these are already highly dynamic places in their own right, constantly being remodelled by the effects of climate, sea level and events like storms. So, as he explains to Chris Smith, Cambridge University geographer Tom Spencer thinks we should see them, and our relationship with them, as a connected continuum, and plan accordingly...

Tom - Something like half the world's population now lives relatively close to a coast. So we have huge numbers of people at very high densities, very rapid increases of coastal populations, and therefore we have to start thinking about the coastal system, not as a biological or physical system, which then has some kind of human component tacked onto the end of that, but a system where you've got this intertwining of the biological, the physical and the human.

Chris - Of course coasts are extremely high energy places. You're dissipating wave energy, wind energy, and thermal energy there, aren't you?

Tom - Yes, you are. And one of the interesting things about coasts is that if they're left to behave in a natural kind of way, those coasts will shift, and they'll shift as those energy levels change and shift around. And one of the problems is when we have human populations living and working and interacting at the coast, they start to interfere with those natural processes.

Chris - And what's the consequence of that? Because if I had a house and it was falling into the sea, I'd want someone to interfere, or would I?

Tom - Yes, I think you probably would, but the difficulty is if you build a sea wall or if you build some kind of breakwater and you start to interrupt the natural movement of sediments, and of energy, you can get yourself into big problems. So I could give you a number of examples where people have moved to the coast because this, they've got a house with a beautiful beach in front of it, that back of that beach starts to erode. So they put in a sea wall and that prevents the translation of that energy to be dissipated in say, sand dunes behind the beach. That energy's gotta go somewhere. If it can't go backwards, it's gotta go down. And often what happens in that situation is the beach gets eroded away.

Chris - Of course there's an additional wrinkle, which is we also know that the climate is changing; so that, presumably, is gonna have another layer on top of what's naturally happening anyway?

Tom - Yes. And, and this is why I think working on the coast is particularly challenging. And it's complex because we have some progressive changes. So we have sea level rise, we have things like ocean warming, we have ocean acidification. But then overlying that we also have acute events, hurricanes and typhoons and storm surges. And what's interesting I think, is that the climate change debate has changed somewhat over the last few years. We used to just talk about changes in global temperature, changes in global sea level. We are now starting to talk a lot more about extreme events, about floods, about fires, about ocean heat waves. And it may be people are starting to think, well, perhaps the climate change signal is really starting to come through in the increased magnitude and the increased frequency of these extreme events.

Chris - What can we do about all these things then? Obviously, we're trying to keep the temperature down with climate change - whether we'll succeed or not, I mean, that's to be determined, isn't it - but what can we do then?

Tom - Well, you talked a little bit there about mitigation and I think if we can mitigate climate change, then we should obviously do that. But that looks like it's, it's very tough and very difficult as we know from these various COP meetings that we've had. So we really have to think about adaptation and in the kind of context that I'm working in, that means thinking about how can we work with nature So we know, for example, if we think about ecosystems as providing ecosystem services, effectively what's happening there is nature is providing those services for free. So we have a lot of talk about working with nature, nature-based solutions to climate change. And we can talk about planting mangroves, we can talk about restoring salt marshes, we can talk about extending mud flats to provide those kinds of natural buffers at the coast, which will dissipate some of this increasing energy that we are likely to get from higher sea levels and perhaps dissipate some of the energy we get from warmer oceans, which give us stronger cyclones. But the difficulty I think is that, while there's a lot of interest in that, and there are quite a lot of policy documents out there, which, you know, aim to deliver these kinds of nature-based solutions, the science is some way behind the policy. And I think one of the things that coastal scientists can do is to think about what are the design rules for working with nature? How can we take what we do know about these systems and apply those to these kinds of nature-based solutions to provide a better defense natural defense against these increasing energy levels at the coast.

Chris - The other thing I suppose that one has to bear in mind is that nature operates at the timescale over which nature operates! You can't just say to nature, I need a nature based solution tomorrow, so we really need to start today then, if we're going to go down this route, then strategists and policy-makers need to be implementing what you are saying now with 30 years in ahead in mind?

Tom - Yes, I think one of the difficulties is we, we've seen some of these nature-based solutions. I can give you examples where people have tried to recreate salt marsh for example, but they've tried to do it at too lower level and so the vegetation doesn't become established. You get left with a muddy pond. You know, there's a huge challenge here because engineering structures, of course you can, you can easily get the design criteria for a seawall of a particular height to particular lengths. And an engineer will tell you what sort of event that will protect you against. It'll give you the maintenance costs for something like that. And we don't have those kinds of rules at the present time for these natural systems. And that's what we need to move towards. And you are absolutely right. I think we have to accept that some of these things are gonna take time. But they're very, very powerful if they work. So salt marshes, for example, if you supply them with sufficient sediment, will track sea level rise if the sediment supply is, is provided. Obviously if you dam your rivers or you, you build defenses in front of your cliffs, then that sediment might not get into the the salt marsh system in the way that you'd want. So there are a lot of spatial interconnections here, which you have to think about as well. But, potentially, that's a much more sustainable solution than building a solid concrete wall, which you then need to rebuild 10, 20, 50 years later.

Law statue

07:49 - Law and international conservation

We have laws aiming to save biodiversity and protect nature, so why are we seeing an extinction crisis?

Law and international conservation
Katie Woolaston, Queensland University of Technology

“Around the world, countries have introduced laws and policies designed to prevent species extinction. And while there have been some success stories, overall, these approaches are routinely failing. Extinction rates continue to climb”. Those words belong to Katie Woolaston, from Queensland University of Technology’s School of Law. And, as she explains to Chris Smith, she’s been looking at why, from a legal perspective, we're in the middle of an extinction crisis, despite international efforts to curtail biodiversity loss…

Katie - We know that a lot of the mechanisms that we use in law and policy to protect nature and to protect species and biodiversity do not work. And we know that because we continue to lose species, our extinction rates are higher than ever. So if we have so many different types of laws and policies that are aimed at conserving species and minimising extinction rates, why do we have still these huge extinction rates?

Chris - Is it just that law always tries to catch up in the sense that people do things and then we legislate and regulate around them? And because this is a moving train and you are catching up, you are always seeing the situation after the fact, to a certain extent?

Katie - Yeah, definitely. Law is very reactive and that is definitely a problem when it comes to environmental conservation, but it's not the only problem. There's a lot of issues that have been discussed by many people as to why law is ineffective in conserving species, the legal system that we have to deal with species protection is really complex. You know, we don't just have one piece of law that says we need to protect all of the species and all of the habitat. We have multiple types of laws, and then we have laws about development that impact on those species. And we have laws about trade that impact on those species. And all of these kind of complex array or network of laws all factor into how biodiversity is treated by people. Another really big issue is that in many Western systems, the law is based on the concept of sustainable development. And when decision-makers are making decisions about what laws should be implemented or made to protect species, they're often dealing with a conflict of values. So we have protection of environment and protection of biodiversity on one hand, and on the other hand, we'll have economic development or protection of property right, or employment rate that will often conflict with the environmental perspective; and, usually, the environment loses out in those types of situations. And the final really big problem is that there's just not enough resources. So even though we have laws, there's inadequate resources to kind of implement, monitor, and enforce those laws. And so a lot of the time they're ineffective for that reason.

Chris - Have we also got something of a fragmented legal landscape internationally? Because different laws have different settings, different priorities, different levels of enforcement in different countries, and also most of the laws that that we tend to consider tend to be in western jurisdictions, and that's not necessarily where all the biodiversity is, so there's a disconnect there...

Katie - International law in an environmental space is not compulsory. A lot of people think international law is just law and countries have to abide by it, but that's not actually how it works. Countries opt into international law, so they will sign on to a treaty, for example, and then they'll implement that treaty at the national level. What international law and the goals in international law do is kind of create pressure to implement environmental laws at the national level. And you're completely right, a lot of the biodiversity hotspots are in less developed countries that don't have the capacity to implement effective laws. But, in other ways, those countries are doing a lot better with, you know, leading the way with things like giving legal rights to nature, for example, that a lot of western countries haven't grasped yet.

Chris - It sounds to me from what you're saying, the tension here is that the human population is rising. We know that. I mean, in the last two decades we've added about 30% more humans to the planet, each of them with, with a carbon footprint and the slice of the world surface that they like to call their own. What can we do then to make sure that that tension is better addressed? Where we don't just say, well, we've got to keep growing the planet, we've got to keep growing economies and nature keeps paying the price. How do we reverse that equation?

Katie - Yeah, you raise a really good point, and one of the things talked about a lot is that concept of de-growth, which is really looking at stopping our focus on economic growth to the detriment of everything else. And that's one thing that perhaps needs to be focused on, but from a legal perspective, there are a lot of good ideas floating around. Unfortunately, part of implementing those good ideas really involves removing the politics from lawmaking, which is problematic because politicians make laws. So having politicians give up their discretion to prioritsze certain things over the environment is, is going to be difficult. But there are a number of ways that we can do that. And one of the really big pushes at the moment is mainstreaming. So this is when a particular issue in, in our case, biodiversity, kind of becomes a core consideration of government, and that's legislated for. So all of the government processes and systems are kind of redesigned and reorganized from the perspective of addressing that issue. The other thing is to really make sure that the decisions that are being made are transparent and independent, because when we have transparent decisions, they can be independently verified and reviewed. And if a politician, or a minister or a government makes a poor decision in terms of protecting the environment, we need to be able to review that decision. And so providing laws that, you know, allow independent authorities to have a say in decisions or review decisions increases the transparency of that decision, but also reduces the risk of ministerial discretion and increases evidence-based decision-making.

A figure pulling apart strands of DNA

14:39 - Pharmacogenomics: personalising medicine

How the genetic code can inform better medical practice...

Pharmacogenomics: personalising medicine
Sandosh Padmanabhan, University of Glasgow

Most people would be shocked to learn that, half the time, the pills and doses prescribed by a doctor probably won’t work for them. But that’s the current reality of medical practice. We work at a population level rather than a personal one. Genomics, though, offers us the ability to deliver more tailor made treatments, where doses and agents are selected according to a person’s make up. So what’s involved in making it happen? Sandosh Padmanabhan is Professor of Cardiovascular Genomics and Therapeutics at the University of Glasgow…

Sandosh - Pharmacogenetics is a field which combines two specialist areas: pharmacology and genomics. The problem with pharmacology or drug treatment is when you go to a doctor, you are prescribed a drug and in almost 40 to 60 per cent of times that drug may not work for you. You don't know that; the doctor doesn't know that. It's difficult to predict.

Chris - Is that because, Sandosh, we are all different: I look different to you because - genetically - I'm different from you, and this means that on the inside I'm a bit different from you as well; and hence what might have been tried and tested on you, hasn't been tried and tested on me and therefore won't work. It's as simple as that...

Sandosh - Absolutely. If you look at your genome, humans are 99.9% identical, but that is this 0.1%, which is different. And this is natural variation. And when you talk about variability in drug response, it's that difference which changes certain proteins in your body that's targeted by the drugs. And if there is a slight variation in that protein or the protein which metabolises the drug, then you see variation in drug response.

Chris - So what you're saying to me is that at the moment what we are effectively doing is I'm taking you by the hand to the shoe shop and I'm not waiting for them to measure your feet. I'm just grabbing a pair of shoes off the shelf and saying you will wear these. That's like giving a drug indiscriminately to somebody. And some people's feet are not gonna fit. And as a result there are gonna be blisters - side effects - of wearing the wrong shoes. And if on the other hand we can look at the genetic code and ask what pair of shoes fits that person best, we we've got a chance to tailor things and minimise the side effects?

Sandosh - Absolutely. And that's a perfect example. And when you go to the shoe shop and if you blindly take different shoes, it may not fit and you'll have to try a lot of shoes to find the right fit, and that's trial and error. But if you have your feet measured and then you go to the right size, then you don't have that much of trial and error to get you on the right dose and the right drug. So it's not just about giving you the right drug, it's about giving the patient the right dose. So we know what drug to give you, but you may be a person where your liver enzyme is unusually overactive because of some genetic variation. So in your case you may actually require a higher dose of the drug, or conversely, you may actually require a lower dose of the drug because the enzyme is so active, it's just removing the drug from the circulation.

Chris - And this is happening a lot in clinical practice. You were saying that 40 to 60% of the time drugs won't work. Is that just down to this effect then that, that when I go to the GP and I'm prescribed something for a condition, there are quite high odds then that that agent may not, or at least the initial dose and the initial choice of agent may not work for me and I may have to be back a few times to get things right?

Sandosh - Correct. And I'd like to quote William Osler who said that if it were not for the individual variability in drug response, medicine would have been a science and not an art <laugh>. And that's what we practice. We practice the art of medicine. We know from clinical trials that this drug will work for this condition, but is that drug the right drug for this patient? And what's the right dose for the patient? That's trial and error.

Most people would be shocked to learn that, half the time, the pills and doses prescribed by a doctor probably won’t work for them. But that’s the current reality of medical practice. We work at a population level rather than a personal one. Genomics, though, offers us the ability to deliver more tailor made treatments, where doses and agents are selected according to a person’s make up. So what’s involved in making it happen? Speaking with Chris Smith, Sandosh Padmanabhan is a Professor of Cardiovascular Genomics and Therapeutics at the University of Glasgow…

Chris - We've been doing this kind of thing in terms of practicing medicine and giving drugs some pills for things for, for a really long time. We've only begun to think like this though much more recently. So how much do we know, how much do we understand; how much, in terms of our pharmacological repertoire, can we actually throw genetics at? So you can use my DNA code to make an informed choice about the drugs that you would like to give me?

Sandosh - The recognition that genetics could play a role, it's not recent. It goes as far back as Pythagoras, who said certain people when they eat fava beans will have hemolysis and pass dark urine. We've known about genetic variations that affect drug response and even dramatic side effects right from the 1950s. So there's a lot of knowledge, there's a lot of science. We have a lot of good examples where genomics can predict adverse drug reaction. And some of those have come into clinical practice. But it's only a handful of genetic variants that are currently used in clinical practice. There is a, a lot of genetic variants out there. So if you look at our drug regulatory agency, so the FDA in the US or the MHRA in the uk, there are nearly 200 drugs where the FDA recommend on the drug label that these drugs have pharmacogenetic implications. It's there on the drug label. But in terms of clinical practice, we have not yet applied pharmacogenetics into our practice.

Chris - Why is that? Is that a practical thing? In the sense that when I went to medical school, we'd really just embarked on the human genome project. It was gonna take us years and cost us about 3 billion. Now you can do it in a day and it costs maybe hundreds to a thousand pounds to do a genome. Is it just that we've been waiting for the technology to catch up or is there another reason why this is not yet very widely implemented?

Sandosh - So this is a complex area and the reasons are multifactorial. Cost is important because there is a genetic test required before prescribing and it's an upfront cost. Secondly, we physicians always follow evidence from clinical trials, which means that for each drug you'll have to do a randomised clinical trial, and it's more expensive. You can't expect pharma companies to do drug trials if it's going to reduce the market for the drugs. Thirdly, in medical school, your genetic education is probably in the first three years or two years after that you don't do a lot of genetics. So now you have all the GPs, specialists, coming out of medical school who have not been trained in genetics. So when you want to implement genomics, you'll face resistance because people will have to train more. On the other side is you have a genetic test with adds cost and most of the drugs we commonly use are off patent. They're very cheap. So that is an argument that, okay, if we just monitor the patients trial and error may be cheaper than genotyping. And then the other thing about data privacy, your genetic information is held in your health records. None of these are huge problems, but there are a multitude of problems and all of them need to be addressed for this to be implemented and people to understand that the benefit of pharmacogenetics is a long-term benefit. Everybody benefits, but it's an investment for the future.

Pile of used plastic bottles

22:32 - Regulating plastic to prevent pollution

How do we cut the millions of tonnes of plastic produced, and dumped, each year?

Regulating plastic to prevent pollution
Peter Jacques, Monmouth University

Do you remember when Sir David Attenborough highlighted the massive problem of marine plastic pollution when his Blue Planet II programme showed poignant footage of a whale carrying her dead calf, which had in all likelihood been poisoned, he said, by pollution? Millions saw that footage and were appalled to learn that as much as ten million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans every year. But is this “peak plastic”, and how do we predate the problem? Speaking with Chris Smith, Peter Jacques, from Monmouth University, works on environmental politics and global environmental sustainability…

Peter - Plastic pollution is ubiquitous and it's very hard to be able to solve a problem after it has occurred. So while there are projects to go scoop up plastic on the surface of the ocean, that scratches the surface because there's so much plastic pollution, a lot of it's on the bottom of the ocean, a lot of it's being ingested by marine life and it's causing major problems environmentally. And health concerns alone are gigantic and nowhere does it seem to be the case where we're actually regulating it. The petrochemical industry, one executive said, we need to make plastics fantastic again and get the idea of marine plastic pollution out of the minds of people. But right now they're thinking about regulating plastics under an international treaty. But what that looks like is totally up for debate. Is it going to be where as the plastic industry would like us to think simply, "hey, increase and improve recycling"? That means that there's no onus on them, and also most plastic is not recycled at all and cannot be recycled.

Chris - How regulatable then do you think the industry actually is? Because it's, it's global and different jurisdictions, as we know, have different commitments to the welfare of the environment and even to humans?

Peter - I think you'd have to regulate it at the source. So here we're talking about petrochemical plants, and if you're gonna make it an international treaty, then domestically, each country would have to make sure that they're doing their job and keeping tabs on those plants. But it's gonna be tough to regulate it effectively.

Chris - Do you think we're sort of fiddling while Rome burns a bit then when we see COP happening in the Middle East, for example, and we're worrying about carbon emissions, should we not also have COP for plastic? Because arguably there's 8.3 billion tons of the stuff been produced since the Second World War. A very significant proportion we know ends up in the ocean and we think it's gonna be there for a really long time. Those are characteristics which are not that dissimilar to what we're doing with, with carbon emissions...

Peter - Exactly. And so my colleagues have argued that we're essentially creating empty institutions, institutions being rules here, treaties. We're talking about international rules that simply do not regulate, that we get together and agree to do nothing.

Chris - Why have we allowed this to happen? Can you give us a sort of snapshot of, of how this whole situation and the sorry, state of where we are today has evolved and why we've allowed ourselves to get into that position?

Peter - Well, from the perspective that I take in the paper, we've evolved this place because of the way in which capitalism has developed. It's become less and less regulated by social and environmental protections. It's kind of getting more and more free reign. That the way in which the economy works is less and less embedded in these social rules.

Chris - So plastic's a kind of a symptom of, I don't wanna use the word economic success because you're arguing it's actually that that's causing the problem. But you see what I'm saying? So the more the economy grows, the more the plastic problem grows. One would expect that relationship, I suppose?

Peter - Yeah, yeah. In modern capitalism, they're tied together. They've co-evolved so tightly. It is hard to imagine even operating in a single day without using plastic yourself as a, you know, just there's a journalist who tried and he couldn't do it.

Chris - It is a fantastic material though, as that petrochemical company said, plastic. Fantastic. Apart from being a brilliant rhyme, it is an amazing material. It does so many things that are very hard to replace, which is why it's become ubiquitous. But therein lies the Achilles heel, because it's poisoning the environment because of its amazing characteristics that make it very attractive to us.

Peter - Yeah, it's lightweight. It's durable and you can, you can use it to say, protect food and it's certainly essential in the medical field. So there's no denying those things. But the perspective in the paper is that the plastic production needs to be wrapped around social and environmental protections, rules, you know, that has to be regulated. And if it's not, then we're gonna have the problem that we do.

Chris - It does boggle my mind though, because I go shopping and I come home with the ingredients to cook, say Sunday lunch, and I end up with a rubbish bin full of packaging. It didn't used to be like that. So why has this taken off? Why has this happened, and why am I routinely throwing all that plastic away? I would very happily have that stuff - carrots, even <laugh> - not wrapped up in cling film. I'd, I'd much rather not have all the plasticisers and just have a paper bag. Why is this happening? What's driving it and how do we predate it?

Peter - I think that's a great question. I mean, first of all, cost, right? So it's very cheap. And then in the mind of some consumers, your carrots are, are safer to eat because they've been wrapped in plastic, even though that's not the case. But certainly it has grown in use because it's so cheap and effective.

Chris - So is the way to solve it. Then a bit like we're having a sugar tax to deter people from drinking unhealthy pop and cola drinks and so on. We need a plastic tax. And if you are gonna wrap your chicken in plastic, then you need to have a reasonable understanding of microbiology and why it's safer to do that than to just sell your chicken unwrapped and so on.

Peter - I guess that's a option personally, I would think, be more effective to really get at the source instead of the consumer. So the, the industry, I think we need our eyes on the industry,

Chris - But the industry, the petrochemical industry - this is often a byproduct. The things that build plastics are byproducts of making the fuels that go in our cars, aren't they? And so they will argue, well, what are we gonna do with them otherwise, we'll, we'll burn them then. And then you'll say, well, I'm just, I'm just trading one problem to solve another.

Peter - That's right. The byproduct of jet fuel is the source of plastic. And that gets to kind of another issue is that, that fossil fuel needs to be left in the ground. And so we need to switch and decarbonise the economy and change the way your car works.

flooded road

29:27 - Ecohydrology: what the Netherlands is doing to mitigate flood and drought risk

And why a last minute, one size fits all solution, won't work when it comes to water management...

Ecohydrology: what the Netherlands is doing to mitigate flood and drought risk
Ruud Bartholomeus, Netherlands KWR Water Research Institute

Climate change means that not just temperatures but weather patterns in general are altering, and we’re also likely to see more extremes: storms that are stronger and more frequent; dry spells that are more protracted. And this means we need to plan ahead and mitigate accordingly. Which inevitably means better water stewardship. But, as he explains to Chris Smith, the point Ruud Bartholomeus, from the Netherlands KWR Water Research Institute, makes is that there’s not a one size fits all solution, because the challenges of flooding are quite different from the challenges posed by droughts; so we need to anticipate the different threats and work with the environment making long-term investments…

Ruud - With the droughts emerging from 2018 onwards, we faced a new challenge. Even in countries like the Netherlands where we have a water surplus, we had to deal with severe droughts during summer periods and we had droughts in the decades before, but they often had during only one year. But this was different now we had a multi-year drought and also given the climate projections for the future climates, it was clear that we need to anticipate within our water management to prepare and to guarantee sufficient freshwater also during summer periods in the future. But anticipating on drought seems to be much more difficult. We were questioning why it's so difficult to cope with droughts too and how we can guarantee sufficient fresh water for the future.

Chris - Is it just because, hitherto, in a country like the Netherlands, the main challenge has been water surplus; droughts have been infrequent, so it hasn't really focused people's minds? Or is it that the challenges of coping with a drought are so different from coping with water surplus that it takes a totally different way of thinking and that takes time to evolve?

Ruud - First of all, the impact of floods on people is, and on the environment is a lot different than the impact of droughts. Water surplus and flooding comes fast but it disappears fast. But the impact is very large. People can die from it. It's a lot of damage to infrastructure; it's very visible. While the impact of drought, it's comes slowly. A lot happens below ground. Normally people don't die of it, so it's much less visible. It's completely different from anticipating on flooding. Regarding the measures that need to be taken, partly they are different, but they are also to some extent quite similar. When we look to the flood defense in the Netherlands after the floods of 1995, we came with a new programme where much more space was given to the rivers so that we can deal with these kind of extreme rainfall events and extreme discharges. Dealing with drought also asks for organising land management so that we can have the precipitation surplus from winter that we can save for summer periods.

Chris - Do you think to an extent that because in the past we've tended to do what we wanted to do and then change the environment to accommodate our wishes, we're gonna have to flip this round a bit and start saying, well, this is what the environment's going to do, so we have to adapt our land use more accordingly. And that might not always sit comfortably with what our priorities are, but it's going to become a priority?

Ruud - Yes, I agree that that's needed and that's also why the national government of the Netherlands introduced policy on water and soil as leading forces adapt to what the environment facilitates to do with your environmental use and not try to put everything to what you think that should be present at a certain place. So make the environment more leading to activities that you can plan. That is quite difficult of course, because you have many functions in place already, but you can think of that changing a function at a location is very difficult, especially in a country like the Netherlands, which is a small country. Many functions are integrated close to each other and that's one of the main challenges that we have to face. And that's also why it's not possible to have simple solutions to the drought problem. It's not, we take measures and within four years everything is solved. Now this is really into a transformation of the water system and completely different thinking of how we deal with our land also in relation to water, but water is more leading in, in the environmental planning and the environmental use.

Chris - So what do you think then should be on a policymaker's priority list?

Ruud - Within our paper we investigated or identified the success of different transitions that we made within the Netherlands, especially focusing on prevention of flooding. So we had a clear vision from the national government how things needed to change. Room for the river is the same. It's not a policy of four year, it's a long-term vision on how we want to deal with flood protection in the future. If you have this long-term vision and this societal acceptance that we want to achieve that vision that's one of the main goals and it's very important to achieve these goals. The same we need to do also for drought. We don't need to look at short-term solutions, but we need to have this long-term vision and find the adaptation pathways to reach that new situation where we find this new balance between water surplus, water demand and water system management.


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