A Political Forest - IFPM5 conference

International Forest Policy Meeting (IFPM5) - April 9th-12th
The Conference


From April 9th to 12th, 2024, more than 200 participants from around the world, representing various disciplines and organizations, gathered at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry at Viikki Campus for the fifth edition of the well-established International Forest Policy Meeting (IFPM). Hosted by the International Forest Policy Research Group, participants had the opportunity to present their ongoing research and investigations into “a political forest” across many levels of governance. The presentations were organized into 36 topical panels of which many considered questions of social and environmental justice and equity.  The topics covered included but were not limited to: (i) the decolonization of forest research, (ii) the role of women in the forestry sector, and (iii) forest policy-making in the European Union (EU). Additionally, the conference featured a diverse complementary program that included interactive workshop sessions on Northern European forests and forest policy, on gender issues (including the launch of a MOOC on gender equality, diversity and inclusion) and participation in forest policy making.

Decolonizing forest research

The conference kicked-off on Tuesday 9th with a workshop on the decolonization of (forest) research co-organized by the Finnish University Partnership for International Development (UniPID) together with the International Forest Policy Research Group. This topic was continued in the official opening key note of the conference, with Prof. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni (University of Bayreuth) setting the scene by revealing the coloniality of knowledge, within and beyond forests and forest policy research. A panel of experts then shared their own backgrounds and experiences and understandings of decoloniality in forest policy and discussed together with the audience enabling and hindering conditions for implementation of a decolonial practice in education and research. Throughout the following 2.5 days, in panels, during breaks, in the shuttle bus or on the way to the town hall for the conference reception, participants engaged in critical discussions on how to translate the ambition of decolonizing forest policy research into practice, reflecting on their positionalities and power dynamics within research practices. Finally, a number of panels, including those of the ForEqual project and FairFrontiers project further advanced our understanding of the theoretical, methodological and practical underpinnings of decoloniality throughout the conference. 

Polarization in and politicization of forests in Europe – and elsewhere

While many participants considered the need to decolonize forest policy and forest policy research timely, an increasing polarization surrounding forests and forest policy in the Global North and South featured in numerous panels and discussions, and was considered as being potentially counter-productive for efforts to increase social and environmental justice. In light of rapid climate change, where forests are perceived both as victims and saviors, and the ongoing decline in biodiversity partly linked to global deforestation and forest degradation driven by unsustainable consumption patterns, particularly in the Global North, the recent increasing ‘politicization’ of forests was prominent throughout the conference. Discussions included also participation in policy making and the challenges related to the embedding of forest policy in a multi-level and cross-sectoral political system and opportunities and obstacles for the implementation of EU forest-related policies in diverse European contexts. 

EU forest politics

On day 2, the keynote titled “EU Forest Strategy: ambitions, anxieties and policy implications”, delivered by Prof. Georg Winkel (Wageningen University) and the following panel discussion with experts from the EU, forest Industry and environmental NGOs, highlighted the trade-offs of polarization for the case of forest policy making and the EU. Within the European Union, politicization is described as increasingly leading to social polarization related to the prioritized services of forests and their respective management. While the rise in political attention to forests is generally welcome, it becomes clear that the many and partly opposing influences can lead to stalemates in forest-related policy making. 

Forests are also being ‘politicized’ on a global scale, as they are expected to provide a multitude of benefits, ranging from timber to carbon offsetting services, within a web of interconnected material and financial flows. A number of panels looked at how these expectations have been historically constructed, by analyzing global and historic data to gain an understanding of the inequalities embedded in trade and investment patterns in relation to forests and forestland in the Global South, and the mechanisms that produce and reproduce these inequalities. Other related panels highlighted the intersections between discourses, finance and politics. The panelists illustrated how actors, interests and ideas are shaped by histories and distal flows of ideas, commodities and finance. 

Two exhilarating excursions

The conference concluded with two exhilarating excursions during which the participants got to embrace the full experience of Finland. The first excursion led to Kuusijärvi lake in Vantaa where the participants could not only enjoy the pleasure of a traditional Finnish smoke sauna but also a refreshing dip into the 4-degree cold Kuusijärvi. It comes without saying that the participants got to savor a typical Finnish “makkara” grilled over a crackling bonfire during the sauna breaks. The second excursion was a visit to WoodCity, a flagship of Finnish wood construction born from a collaboration between Stora Enso, construction company SRV and others. Participants were given a visit of the on-going construction site, as well as Supercell’s main lobby, detailing use of new wood materials such as Veneered Laminated Wood (LVL). Participants questioned the potential of such projects in supporting Finland’s pledge for carbon neutrality by 2030… over coffee by the Helsinki waterfront.

Insights, surprises and (research) gaps

In the concluding session on Friday morning, participants gathered in a lecture hall to reflect on the key takeaways from the event and to identify open questions and gaps for future collaboration and research. For example, while several participants appreciated the new insights gained on the importance of decoloniality and social and environmental justice in forest research, there was a call for more learning on how to translate theory and awareness into practice, especially when European Visa politics actively exclude a number of scholars from the Global South. Along these lines, a number of participants called for more engagement in science-policy-society interaction, yet others acknowledged the need for further strengthening the science of the relatively young field of International Forest Policy, and to continue to support especially young scholars through peer interaction and networking. Additionally, there was widespread agreement among participants about the astonishing breadth and depth of presentations during the conference, indicating substantial growth within the field of forest policy in recent research. Lastly, it was noted that the in-person format of the event proved highly beneficial for advancing networking after years of home office and online meetings, yet it came at a trade-off for those that could not travel for various reasons and which would have been able to participate with a hybrid format.

We are looking forward to seeing you all in 2026 during IFPM6 in Prague, Czech Republic!