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Tilburg scientists express wishes and advice to new cabinet

Published: 10th January 2022 Last updated: 11th January 2022

Scientists at Tilburg University are not only wishing the new cabinet with a record number of brand new ministries a good New Year, but also much wisdom. Additionally they are offering their unsolicited expert opinions and wishes. They state that the government's policy should be bolder, faster and with more vision, especially when it comes to climate. The use of scientific insights and methodes like Artificial Intelligence lead to better results in terms of climate, energy transition, economy and citizen and scientist satisfaction. In this way they show that strict, fair climate measures are possible that benefit people and the planet.

Reyer Gerlagh, Professor of Environment and Economics at the Tilburg School of Economics and Management (TiSEM): 'With regard to the climate, in 2022 we will be in the same phase as with smoking 30 years ago. Scientists see a problem; politicians find it difficult; and the major parties do not dare to explain that a change is needed. The longer we wait, the more expensive the change will become.'

The business community argued long ago that a world with fewer cigarettes would be bad for the economy and jobs. That is now repeating itself with the nitrogen and climate issues. But strict climate policies are actually proving good for the economy. Economic growth comes from growth in knowledge and an environment that allows people to develop and use their knowledge. The government must make it clear to businesses and citizens that no coal will be used in the Netherlands after 2030, no liquid fossil fuels after 2040, and no natural gas after 2050, so that all noses are in the same direction, precisely for the benefit of the economy.

Climate policy affordable for everyone

How does climate policy remain affordable for people? The Dutch under-40s are in a difficult position. House and rent prices have risen so much that they cannot pay extra for insulation or more efficient heating. What are the scientific insights that the government can use?

- A mandatory level of the energy label for houses (when sold and in rental) does not lead to higher housing costs, but to an income transfer from rich people (house owners) to less rich people (renters and young people buying a house). A quick win-win: both the climate and the less wealthy Dutch people benefit.

- The approach to the nitrogen problem has focused too much on technology. One solution is to limit the total weight of livestock, or to restrict the use of animal feed.

'And as we have seen with smoking: if we combine such a measure with a meat tax, we can say in twenty years' time that it is remarkable how easily we were able to solve the problem.'

Using Artificial Intelligence

Professor of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Eric Postma of the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences (TSHD), also addresses the cabinet on policies that should lead to a sustainable society, in good relations between people and with nature. He addresses in particular the new Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Robbert Dijkgraaf, and explains how science can serve him with:

- research into better climate models using AI,

- the development of AI-based neural and medical models to replace experiments on animals,

- research into AI models for monitoring and conserving biodiversity.

- the use of AI technology to reduce world hunger (see the Zero Hunger Lab in Tilburg)

- the development of efficient AI methods that consume less energy

- the development of AI methods that neutralize the negative effects (polarization) of social media and the underlying machine learning algorithms.

Postma also breaks a lance for young researchers, who should be given resources to conduct fundamental or applied research on sustainable themes: 'Currently, the research capacity available in the Netherlands is underutilized due to the far-reaching bureaucratization of grant applications. Researchers waste their expensive time in many meetings and gatherings to meet the ever-large list of requirements with a minimal chance of success.  Scientists request you to counteract this bureaucratic trend and to greatly simplify the procedures for grant applications. The research capacity that is freed up can then be fully used for fundamental and applied research to address the key challenges facing our society.'

Draw up legislation for energy transition quickly

Saskia Lavrijssen, Professor of Economic Regulation and Market Governance at the Tilburg Law School (TLS), argues for good cooperation between the various ministers and state secretaries on dossiers involving the energy transition, climate change, agriculture and nature conservation. 'It is positive that a climate OMT is being established, but there is a lot of work to be done. There are currently a number of complex legislative dossiers on the table, such as the new Energy Act and the Collective Heat Supply Act. In addition, rules for regulating the hydrogen market must also be drawn up, which are largely determined by European law. The adoption of the new laws is necessary to create certainty for investors and to enable new innovative solutions that accelerate the integration of renewable energy into the energy system.'

One thorny issue in the energy transition that needs to be resolved quickly is the slow building of the necessary infrastructure, Lavrijssen argues. 'In the big cities, but also in the provinces, there are shortages of network capacity which mean that renewable energy projects, businesses and housing projects cannot be connected to the electricity grid. Grid managers want politicians to set priorities for the construction of new infrastructure. Their wish is understandable. However, these directives will have to be drafted in such a way that they are in line with European law and, in particular, the principle of non-discrimination. '

Create clear rules for digitilization

Bart van der Sloot, TLS researcher in the field of privacy and big data, also points out the importance of new rules to create that fair and sustainable society: 'It was high time that within the cabinet someone becomes specifically responsible for digitalization. So many processes in society are data-driven and technology-dependent that digitization touches almost every Cabinet area: legal protection, defense, finance, innovation, education and also the medical sector is increasingly dependent on data and algorithms. In the long run, this development can bring great benefits: a more efficient and decisive government, economic growth and innovation, and new opportunities and possibilities for both citizens and businesses.'

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