“We need to understand how and why forests might be important for others”
How important is it for policy makers, governments, business and wider society to understand the benefits forests can provide us?
It is essential that everybody understands the importance of forests and also that people know how others perceive forests. Each of us give multiple and different values to forests, depending on personal histories, culture, place of residence, socio-economic situation, profession… We might know why forests are important for us yet we also need to understand how and why forests might be (or not) important for others. In this context, triggering a multi-actor societal dialogue on different forest-related issues is very important, especially if we want to understand the complete picture of perceptions, values and benefits revolving around forests, which include ecological, socio-political, cultural and economic aspects.
What is and should be the role of academia in helping policy makers and business managers to make the right decisions concerning forests?
Roles are complementary: academia devotes time to producing in-depth knowledge on certain issues, upon which policy makers and business have to decide and act often without having enough time to reflect on their causes and consequences. Considering this, we believe that the most optimal decisions concerning forests and other sustainability matters will come from combined interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research approaches. These are expected to go beyond disciplinary boundaries and also to fully integrate various actors – from the policy world, the private sector and civil society – in the entire research process.
What has been the importance of forests for human evolution until now and what will it be in the future?
Forests have played a key role in all civilisations. Humans have depended heavily upon forests, whether for food, wood to keep warm or build homes, construct tools, feed livestock, recreation… Forests have been a crucial part of human life throughout history and symbolisms of forests have been omnipresent. Forests appear in every society’s language, customs, beliefs and arts. In the past decades, forests became the symbol of a ‘nature’ threatened by humans; they also became key arenas in debates on climate change, biodiversity decline and energy, among others. In order to understand the importance of forests, we cannot separate scientific knowledge from the symbolic and cultural dimensions.
Can you describe as simply as possible what is your organisation’s role in SINCERE and why did you get involved in the project?
KU Leuven participated in several forest related European projects before and has interdisciplinary expertise in the assessment of forest ecosystem services. EFI invited the KU Leuven team to participate in SINCERE for performing critical sustainability assessments of the innovation actions that will be set up during the project. This means that we will look at the processes of designing and implementing those forest innovations as well as to the results of the implementation. We will assess them collectively, together with the SINCERE practice partners, in view of developing mechanisms that are sustainable, fair and based on inclusive participation.