As a part of our sustainable development week 5-11.10.2020, TAYK organized a distance excursion to European Forest Institute EFI via Zoom. The excursion was supposed to be present at EFI headquarters in Joensuu, as part of our excursion to Koli with Turku UN-association, but due to corona EFI does not take visitors at the moment. Therefore, we decided to organize our first ever online excursion. When we started the zoom conference, something amazing happened that we could not see beforehand.
TAYK is a Finnish local NGO, whose aim is to promote UN’s values locally here in Tampere. Our target audience is therefore local Tampere inhabitants. To increase diversity and inclusiveness, our association works in Finnish and also in English. Majority of our members are Tampere University students so we never would have guessed that our excursion would interest people from all over the world.
There were 15 people attending to our online excursion, and according to the feedback we collected after the event, this was the perfect amount of people for welcoming and cozy excursion. In the beginning we asked where our attendees were from and we were amazed when chat filled with answers; Peru, India, Bangladesh and Austria just to name a few! As our guest from EFI we had the deputy director Lauri Hetemäki give us an informative presentation about EFI’s activity. Amongst other things we learned that EFI is an international organization focusing on producing science-policy reports and working in cooperation with global and local institutions. EFI’s aim is to enhance the use of science in supporting dialogue and policymaking related to European forest-based sector. They respond to member states’ information needs and interact with European Parliament and the Commission, as well as EFI member states governments. Currently EFI has 3 ongoing research projects, and over the course of last five years there has been studies carried out by 200 scientists from 50 research institutes from 20 different countries. Examples of EFI global cooperation projects include the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (which was established by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales), FLEGT (which is a joint action plan from EU and member states for the prevention of illegal logging), and REDD+ (which is international framework by UNFCCC for efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). In relation to other UN organizations, EFI has and is cooperating with Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations FAO, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe UNECE and UN Forum on Forests.
After the presentation we had some questions prepared for Lauri Hetemäki by our dear active members. The topics that we discussed included; What is the biggest threat that European forests currently face, and what can youth do about it? Lauri was clear that climate change is the biggest threat to our forests and nature in general, and youth should keep up the good work in keeping pressure on politicians and decision makers and keep raising awareness on this issue.
We also talked about forest ownership with regards to conservation and sustainable forest management. Lauri pointed out that it doesn’t really matter whether forests are mostly private-owned like in Finland, or state-owned like in Poland, but what matters is clear ownership. Clear ownership leads to clear incentives, and he used as an example countries like Portugal and Sweden, where there is a problem that people have for example inherited a small piece of forest, and haven’t ever visited there or don’t even know that they own forest.
We learned that EFI takes interns from different kinds of fields, and the internship usually lasts 3-6 months. The interns usually get to participate in ongoing research projects or help out in communications or administration activities. People who currently work for EFI are also from different backgrounds, for example environmental science, forest science, social sciences, political science and environmental law. There is a rising demand and interest in European forests, so multidisciplinary approach is profitable.
There was also a question if EFI has taken a stance on Sámi homeland case in Finland, but as EFI is owned by 29 members states and c. 130 organizations, they cannot take a stance on these questions on behalf of their owners.
In addition to our actives’ prepared questions, there were many interesting comments and questions from the audience. Very specific issues related to South Asian forests raised interest, like what could be done to decreasing population of royal Bengal tigers in Bangladesh, and the conflicting view about environmental harm caused by Jhum cultivation in tribal hills of India. Lauri emphasized the importance of cooperation when dealing with conflicting views about what to do with these local issues.
There was also a question about EFI’s cooperation in other parts of the world like South America and China, and even though EFI’s main focus is on European forests, they have offices outside of Europe, like in Beijing and FLEGT office in Kuala Lumpur. Through joint global cooperatives like FLEGT, REDD+ and Circular Bioeconomy Alliance, EFI works even on global issues like the Brazilian rainforests. Lauri also warmly recommended that if you are interested in these different global programs, do not hesitate to contact them directly for example for your thesis subject or internship!
Lauri Hetemäki gave us an important reminder in response to a question about how sustainable the forestry industry in Finland is. The point to remember is that even high-level scientists are not always in agreement what is happening and what we should do. For example, in Finland we do have a clear agreement that biodiversity is important for sustainable development and efforts should be made to increase biodiversity in Finnish forests, but we disagree on the methods on how this should be done.
Moral of the story is that even a local NGO like TAYK can gather participants all over the world and organize a successful distance seminar. In all fairness, EFI participation had a huge impact in attracting attendees, but we were very happy to host this interesting and fruitful event. Corona might put pressure and obstacles on organizing live events, but it made possible for us to organize a whole new kind of event with active participants from all over the world.
This year is the 75th birthday of the United Nations, and UN75 theme year focuses on raising dialogue. What a way for a small local NGO to start a conversation that exceeds state boarders and widens our perspective.
Vice-Chair of TAYK ry