On 20-22 September 2023, 160 participants from 26 countries convened in Königswinter, near Bonn, for the 17th European Forest Pedagogics Congress. The participants, comprising of forest pedagogics, teachers, researchers, foresters, practitioners, policymakers and students, deliberated on the congress theme “Learning to create together ‒ How can Forest Education for Sustainable Development build partnerships and empower people?” Through innovative activities such as working spaces, workshops, outdoor activities, lectures and excursions, different aspects of forest-based Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) were tackled. But what does ESD really mean? ESD can be defined as the impartation of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to individuals for them to understand the impact of their own actions and to learn how to deal with key sustainable development issues such as climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption and to enable responsible behavior (UNESCO).
The congress was organized by the Schutzgemeinschaft Deutscher Wald Bundesverband e. V. (SDW) and the European Forest Pedagogics Network with support from FOREST EUROPE. Matthias Schwoerer from the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and Head of the Unit European and International Forest Politics opened the meeting by emphasizing on the importance of the topic while also conveying his expectations of the congress. Vera Steinberg, who was a panelist representing FOREST EUROPE, mentioned that Forest Education is one of the key areas of FOREST EUROPE’s work within the workstream “Green Jobs and Forest Education”. Here, they strive to raise awareness about FOREST EUROPE’s contribution to the forest policy process at the Pan-European level, capacity building and showcasing Green Jobs in the forest sector. The workstream’s activities and goals are aligned with the need for having skilled personnel to adapt European forests to climate change and managing society’s increasing demands on forests.
In collaboration with SDW, FOREST EUROPE organized a working space on “How should forest-based ESD be integrated in the European Forest Policy Process?” In the discussions, they reflected on the importance of ESD, identified what was missing from the policies and lastly how to address the gaps.
The main messages from the discussion include:
- Forest-based ESD should start at an early age and continue through one’s lifetime since there is no end to learning.
- New learning models are needed, which give pupils and students sufficient time to interact and learn about forests. The curriculum should also offer opportunities for more outdoor activities and other extracurricular activities.
- Forest-based ESD actions and initiatives should be streamlined to amplify the voices of the actors and increase impact.
- The policy process is perceived as slow and difficult to influence but proactiveness in communicating the needs for ESD is needed to ensure that the messages reach the policy makers. This can be achieved by e.g., producing summaries for policymakers and actively approach them.
- Always build on existing initiatives or political agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals and build partnerships across departments, ministries, states, regions and countries.
It is without a doubt that the congress offered a great opportunity to pool and expand the expertise of the participants, boost the existing forest education network, and increased the interest and awareness on forest-based Education for Sustainable Development. It was a privilege for FOREST EUROPE to collaborate with SDW who have been working on crucial forest topics including forest pedagogics for many years.
More information about the Congress is available here.