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Forests do not end at national borders – how can united knowledge help Europe’s forests?

This is a report made by three representatives from the International Forestry Students’ Association during their voluntary work for the HLPD 2023 organization.

On November 9, government representatives and practitioners from all over Europe came together in Berlin for the second FOREST EUROPE High-Level Talks to address one question: How can sustainable forest management help make Europe’s forests more resilient to the consequences of climate change?

For those who don’t know, FOREST EUROPE is a pan-European forest policy process at the ministerial level in which guidelines, criteria, and indicators of sustainable forest management are developed. And we had the opportunity to be the youth representatives.

What have we seen? What are the bullet points we, the Youth, take from this day full of panel discussions? This is our perspective on the topic of „growing healthier forests“ and the efforts the government representatives make in their countries.

The high-level meeting focused on the consequences of the climate crisis in European forests. In his welcoming speech, the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, Cem Özdemir, called for knowledge and forces to be pooled in Europe in order to make greater use of them for our forests, which are severely affected by the climate crisis:

“Our forests are important comrades-in-arms in the fight against the climate crisis and its consequences. Our forests do not end at national borders. Protecting our forests and adapting them to the climate crisis is, therefore, a pan-European challenge. We can only overcome it together.”

As we should know, it is not easy to develop a Europe-wide forest policy. Forests in Europe are very diverse in terms of their tree species composition, climatic conditions and the extent of changes caused by climate change, and social relationships to forests are also very diverse.

Accordingly, Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) does not necessarily equal resilient forest management everywhere, as stated by the professor of ecosystem dynamics and forest management at the Technical University of Munich, Rupert Seidl. It needs deliberate considerations and time frames to enhance a process of resilience. The director of the Icelandic Forest Service, Þröstur Eysteinsson, hits the nail on the head:

there is no „one fits all“-solution.”

So why is it still important to talk to each other? In times of fast-changing environmental and climatic conditions, nobody knows how to act for the best. The rule „local is best“ loses its validity, and we need forest experts to be more open-minded to interlinked knowledge from everywhere in the world.

Since the climatic conditions are changing faster than ever, different problems occur, but in many cases, other nations have already faced these problems. With collaboration and constructive scientific dialogue, we can profit from problems other nations have faced and work together. One good core concern is, therefore, to build and establish a European platform to pool expertise and research findings on protecting forests from the climate crisis. The planned “Forest Risk Facility” (FoRISK Facility) is intended to be a permanent facility for partners and initiatives to receive assistance for preventing risks, coping with risks, and adapting forests. Shared knowledge is the best knowledge.

The HLPD was very professionally organized. As the youth representatives, we did not have much delegation experience beforehand, so it was a pleasure to get the opportunity here. The Moderator, Jo O’Hara, did a fantastic job and led in an emotional and empathic way through the day.  The panelists’ content was substantial and eloquent, which is important for the broader FOREST EUROPE process.

On the second day, we did an excursion in the Grunewald, which was beautiful in the autumn-shaped colorful forest around Berlin. It was also a great opportunity to get to know each other better and to dive deeper into certain topics in smaller groups.

What we missed a bit during the conversations is a bigger emphasis on how important it is to gather ideas for increasing the acceptance of SFM by society. Social acceptance and participatory processes in forestry activities are the root of every forest strategy that is overseen most of the time. In recent times, when many forests look devastated, it is more important to legitimize the expertise of foresters and to make it visible to everyone that foresters act scientifically and to the best of their knowledge and belief.

A lot of this issue relies on our own acts: Foresters need to be more open-minded to other interest groups and sectors in society. Regarding international collaboration, we need to set the same prerequisites for all signatory states and implement an effective and fruitful exchange. Then, we can set a good example of an efficient and action-oriented policy that gets adapted within the FOREST EUROPE process.

Check here the interviews with the Secretary General of the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF), Fanny-Pomme Langue, and the Communications Manager of the International Union of Forest-Research Organizations (IUFRO), José Bolaños.

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