NRP 61: Good attendance at concluding meeting in Bern

Some 140 people attended the concluding meeting held at the Paul Klee Centre in Bern. The major findings of the projects and the syntheses were presented and then discussed by a panel representing politics, research, the administration and professional associations.

Four years of research activity and an intensive synthesis phase culminated on 4 November 2014 in a fine presentation of selected findings from the thematic syntheses and projects. A wide-ranging audience from the research community, the administration, politics and practice attended the final meeting, which showcased the end products of the NRP. The presentations each started with a short video trailer about the project. One of the ten new video clips, "Sustainable water usage – An outlook", was shown on the big screen at the Paul Klee Centre. Steering Committee Member Dietrich Borchardt from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research showed that NRP 61 has produced findings on topics that are also of great international relevance (see presentation). The NRP 61 Exhibition Module was presented for the first time in public.

Lively podium discussion

The meeting ended with a podium discussion moderated by Felix Walter and bringing together representatives from politics, the administration, the professional associations and the research community. The following questions were discussed: What are the central findings of NRP 61? What should now be implemented?

Martin Würsten from the Solothurn Cantonal Environment Office praised the direction taken by NRP 61, saying that the outcome of the research would provide momentum for policy-makers. He highlighted that all actors will need to think in terms of a number of scenarios and that it will be important to plan across sectors. Furthermore, he called for a strategy for dealing with municipal autonomy and praised the videos, which have enabled NRP 61 to reach people who have little to do with research.

Roger Pfammatter from the Swiss Association for Water Resource Management SWV said that a lot of interesting results had been produced, such as information about the impact of climate change in the Alps and about sediment. He argued that these results now needed to be discussed with all the stakeholders and that exaggerated political activism needed to be avoided. Regional strategies and a catchment-area-oriented approach will be key in developing viable solutions. He praised the successful implementation and communication efforts, which have enabled NRP 61 to reach a wide audience.

Raimund Rodewald from the Swiss Nature Conservation Foundation SLS countered that many of the research findings ought in fact to be given a more dramatic interpretation than in the presentations. He argued that there is a need for greater courage, particularly in matters of land usage and he criticised that most solutions tend to focus solely on technical approaches, yet the key element to consider is water usage. In his view, the situation regarding water distribution, in particular, is very dramatic.

Franziska Schwarz, Vice Director of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), viewed the results of NRP 61 as a good resource. She said that FOEN is moving in a similar direction, with strategies such as the report on the postulate by National Councillor Walter and the "Water Supply 2025" report. She highlighted that solutions must be sought in conjunction with the municipalities and cantons and that there is a need to achieve even greater awareness of issues concerning the landscape and biodiversity. She said that she understands the thinking behind a national water strategy, but at the same time she is sceptical that a strategy of this type will be of much use because at the moment the implementation of the new Water Protection Act is generating a huge workload.

Adèle Thorens Goumaz, National Councillor for the canton of Vaud, emphasized that she finds herself having to adopt a defensive stance on the environmental issues that concern her. Many new projects are being blocked, she explained, and a national water strategy would be helpful and supportive for the administration. She was pleased with the ambitious proposals of NRP 61.
Wilfried Haeberli from Zurich University praised the calm approach taken by NRP 61 and the outstanding process of collaboration across disciplines and with experts in the field. He felt that constructive dialogue is far more productive than dramatization. He also regards the young researchers as a major asset for the future.

The discussion now has to be kept moving, and awareness needs to be created of the importance of sustainable water usage: water must be perceived not only as a resource but as the elixir of life! We know what needs to be done. We should do it now, and not wait until the problems become insuperable. 

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