EU research on sustainable forestry products and services through COST initiative

Cooperation in science and technology is high on the European agenda, and this is particularly obvious under the COST programme, an intergovernmental framework that fosters networking in European research investments and strengthens the European Research Area's (ERA) foothold on the global market.

COST's recent 'Foresight on Future Demand for Forest-based Products and Services' strategic workshop series in Vienna, Austria, highlighted the importance of involving key stakeholders in the foresight process of the forestry sector. In a statement, COST programme members said industry and business stakeholders should become involved in testing the ideas presented at the workshop. Their input on trends, drivers, change factors and emerging issues is also vital.

COST members kicked off the workshop by presenting the potential and strengths of anticipatory systems and intelligence. The COST Foresight 2030 initiative, which set out to digitally explore a broadly shared vision for our future beyond 2030, made a major contribution by providing know-how in the use of drivers, trends, signals and scenarios. The XEVENTS project also added value by shedding light on the 'uncertainties and game changers in exploring the futures', the statement read. The workshop participants also presented foresight tools and methods, and exchanged knowledge about the forestry sector.

During the workshop, for instance, more than 40 stakeholders from the forest industry and representatives of academia assessed the forests' needs and demands for the future, particularly for the periods between now and 2030, and 2050. This assessment is crucial, as COST open calls bring together researchers and experts in different countries working on specific topics, and its actions are oriented to contributing to the scientific, technological, economic, cultural or societal development of Europe.

The participants selected six development paths that require further evaluation. Online tests and assessments of the workshop results will be carried out in the coming weeks. Input from representatives of business, research, policy and decision-making, as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will be welcomed, further enriching COST's research objectives.

For their part, members of the Europe's leading forest research network, European Forest Institute (EFI), are working together with the COST DC FPS to make the project a success. The scope of DC FPS' research activities encompasses activities targeting: sustainable economic, environmental and social needs of present and future generations; the protection of forests from environmental hazards including pollution, storms, pests and diseases; enhanced and broader use of wood as a sustainable, efficient and renewable energy source; increased knowledge of the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of pulp and paper, and the resulting products; and the use of biomass from forests to ensure sustainable energy needs.

Key contributions are being made by the Forest-based Sector Technology Platform (FTP) in Belgium, the Future Forests Programme of Sweden, the European Forest Sector Outlook Study team (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, UNECE/FAO), the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, the Standing Committee for Agricultural Research (SCAR), the International Energy Agency (IEA), the research institute Scion New Zealand, and the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation.

The COST strategic workshop is running for a two-year period. The final conference will be held during the Polish Presidency of the EU Council in the autumn of 2011.