Forests and Society Towards 2050


Demands of forest ecosystem services grow up due to the climate crisis and the need to reinforce the bioeconomy sector, the social services of healthy forests as established by the UN sustainable development goals, and forest resilience to disturbances and anthropogenic pressures.

By 2050, drastic changes are expected in population growth, climate change, biodiversity loss, globalization and a growing world economy, putting tremendous pressure on forests and the societies who depend on them. 2050 is a landmark year to achieve the vision of Living in Harmony with Nature of the Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the target of net zero emissions. With a focus on forest contribution to the UN 2030 Agenda and its sustainable development goals (SDG), the IUFRO World Congress in Stockholm 2024 will help streamline  forest research agendas, furthering dialogues and cross-sector cooperation, and promote the multi-functionality of forests and their services.


THEME 1: Strengthening forest resilience and adaptation to stress

Biotic and abiotic stressors of forest have been studied for many years and recent developments indicate that the effects of climate change are already threatening forest health globally with increasing fire frequency and damage by forest pests and pathogens, especially in hemiboreal and boreal zones. The climatic consequences on the forest-soil-water nexus fuel the necessity to understand and predict the magnitude and impact of such disturbances. Maintaining and improving forest health depends on our capacity to understand forest vulnerability and adaptation mechanisms, and to reduce and manage risks, so that we can improve adaptation, mitigation and restoration measures in forest management.

1.1 Maintaining forest health in the face of global change

Climate change, increasing globalization, and international trade pose immense challenges to forest health globally and these factors have the potential to impact the social-ecological systems that comprise forests. Increased frequency of wildfire, storms, air pollution or changes in climate variables can lead to more frequent or severe insect and disease outbreaks. New biotic threats associated with the introduction of alien and invasive species due to anthropogenic factors also challenge forest health. Healthy forests are essential, and to limit the impacts of extreme biotic and abiotic disturbances requires science and technology to interface with management and policy to deliver outcomes that can maintain or improve forest health. Critical to this is the inclusion of indigenous knowledge, as well as public engagement.

  Forests, soil and water

Forests play a critical role in supplying clean water, as 75% of the world’s accessible water comes from forests. Climate and land-use changes can result in depleted and collapsed forest ecosystems. Forests also play a major role in protecting soil from erosion and landslides and even reducing the negative effects of avalanches and earthquakes. Understanding the forest-soil-water nexus response to present and future water availability, protecting and restoring forest ecosystems, and responsibly managing forests for water provision and soil protection are important priorities for water security, forest health and the integrity of social-ecological systems.

1.3 Forest management for global change adaptation and mitigation

Comprehensive knowledge of the genetics, ecology and silviculture of species, an understanding of vulnerability at tree- and stand-level to climate change, and the role forests can play in mitigation and meeting multiple demands for goods and services, are key elements in forest management and ecological restoration. Research in forest science has fostered progress in identifying adaptive forest management strategies. However, challenges remain. Is the advance sufficient and considered on the appropriate temporal and spatial scales? Are scientific advances adequately perceived by stakeholders and the research results really adopted? Reversing weaknesses in communicating scientific results and identifying research gaps are fundamental.


THEME 2: Towards a responsible forest bioeconomy

Sustainability is the goal, a goal which can only be achieved by people taking responsibility together to achieve it. Economic sustainability means that the viability, productivity and profitability of forests are preserved in the long term. All sustainability issues, ecological, economic, cultural and social sustainability need to be considered in order to secure a responsible use of any forest resource. Climate change mitigation increases demand for renewable raw material based solutions and forest biomass plays a key role in the future bioeconomy. New products and cascade use of biomass challenges research and innovation actions. End-user and consumer acceptance is important in order to advance sustainable and resource efficient solutions.

2.1 Sustainable forest operations

The effective implementation of sustainable forest management depends largely on carrying out forest operations to achieve sustainability. Recent changes require a re-thinking of forest operations in terms of sustainability, namely profit and wood quality maximization, ecological benefits, climate change mitigation, carbon sequestration, and forest workers’ health and safety. Key performance areas to ensure the sustainability of forest operations include: environment and its infrastructures; ergonomics; economics; quality optimization of products and production; people and society. Different solutions may be adopted, taking into consideration the socio-economic and environmental conditions, and will be discussed at the Congress.

2.2 Innovations, markets, and industrial developments for the forest products

Consumer demand for truly sustainable solutions is increasing, at the same time expecting added value and social responsibility. This development entails that supply chains and value networks take complex human-nature-technological and economic interactions into consideration. A critical example is forest biomass use for energy production. This requires innovations along the whole supply chain of products and services related to the forest sector aligned with sustainable concepts, regulation, new governance principles, industrial business models, and collaborative partnerships. Stakeholder and consumer engagement is crucial for the development and success of new innovations.

2.3 Planted forests for a resourceful forest bioeconomy

Excessive and unsustainable logging causes deforestation and subsequent forest loss of natural forests, which imposes massive threats on global biodiversity, ecosystems, economy and society. The main supplies of timber resources have been shifting from natural forests to planted forests stock in many countries and regions, considering native and non-native tree species and fast growing clones. Maximizing the role of planted forests to effectively support sustainable forest products industry, taking into account potential risks such plantations pose, especially when they are fast-growing or established with non-native tree species, has become an indispensable step towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050.


 THEME 3: Forest biodiversity and its ecosystem services

Forest biodiversity is the foundation of many ecosystem services, and the effect of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning and processes is a central issue. Biodiversity is under unprecedented threat driven largely by habitat loss. Rapid changes in biodiversity put ecosystem functioning at risk and jeopardize the essential services that we rely on. Research on biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services will play substantial roles in the development of sustainable forest management practices and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. This research will help forest science to contribute to the sustainability of our future.

3.1 Harnessing underused forest genetic resources

Forest genetic resources are a major component of forest resilience under changing environmental conditions and societal demands. However, their potential to maintain ecosystem services, mitigate climate change, increase resilience and provide forest products is largely untapped. This sub-theme aims to improve the understanding of forest genetic resources and promote their diverse and sustainable use to foster adaptation to and mitigation of climate change while improving the livelihoods of local communities as well as design and implementation of safeguards regarding traditional knowledge through breeding, diversified use and innovative mixtures of provenances, rare, endangered and thus far untapped tree species, improved access and equitable sharing of benefits derived from genetic resources.

3.2 Biodiversity, deforestation, and restoration

Maintaining high levels of biodiversity is manifest for a sustainable future of our planet. Over-exploitation or misuse of natural resources and habitat loss, most notably deforestation, are the driving forces behind biodiversity decline and the associated altered provisioning of ecosystem services. Increased restoration of degraded forest ecosystems and implementation of sustainable land-use regimes are important tools to protect and increase biodiversity. Halting deforestation and biodiversity loss is critical to achieving the SDGs and must be implemented hand-in-hand with local communities, national and international bodies, and policymakers. Sustainable solutions, including restoration, must be found and implemented, viewed through the multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder prism of sustainable land use systems and best practices.

3.3  Emerging issues in forest landscape ecology

Forest resources are fundamental components of our overall landscape whose patterns interact with ecological processes (e.g., energy flows, nutrient cycling, flora and fauna dispersal) across time and space. Applying landscape ecology to forest landscapes requires focusing on mosaics of patches, and long-term changes in those mosaics, to integrate ecological values, such as  maintaining forest health and conserving biodiversity, with economic and social purposes, e.g. timber production, recreation and human health. This requires an attitude shift supported by multiple stakeholders and alternative governance systems from a forest compartment to landscape level management with new silviculture approaches, cultural trajectories and economic models, while it supports the identification of trade-offs and synergies for a more sustainable and equitable management of forested land.


THEME 4: Forests for sustainable societies

Changes in values, demographics, production and consumption patterns, together with environmental threats, are major challenges to society. These challenges demand transformative innovations, with novel, synergistic collaborations occurring across sectors, new business and governance models, policymaking, and stronger institutions. A just transition to low-carbon, nature-based and resilient economies is a pre­requisite for sustainable societies. Healthy forests and trees are a key factor to drive this transition to enhanced well-being and quality of life for both urban and rural populations. Governance for sustainable societies must consider individuals and communities, values, gender, social equality, health and income, as well as the institutional arrangements supporting people’s livelihoods and quality of life.

4.1 Nature-Based Solutions

Nature-based solutions (NBS) contribute to the win–win strategies necessary for addressing two of this century’s biggest global challenges: climate change and biodiversity loss. But on a global scale, NBS are still in the early stages of their implementation. We now need to develop NBS that harness both biodiversity and ecosystem services to reduce vulnerability and build social-ecological resilience to climate change, such as ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA). The development of such concepts requires an understanding of the societal perception on the drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss, and the solutions to each driver, as well as the interventions to achieve the solutions and the benefits for communities and stakeholders.

4.2 Power and equity in the forest sector

This sub-theme addresses equality including how forest research is conducted, and the empowerment of women, indigenous peoples, youth, and others that have been marginalized or excluded from the forestry sector. These are critical actors to ensure the sustainability of forest and forestry, and reinforce the value of multiple sources of forest-related knowledge. Forests are supposed to serve a multitude of global and domestic interests and needs. Questions remain on the equity and justice of policies and instruments for forest governance and management, and whether there are some unfair asymmetries in the distribution of costs and benefits among right holders and stakeholders. These questions need to be addressed in ways that consider how scientific knowledge is produced and that value the contributions of multiple actors and ways of knowing.

4.3 Forests, trees, and human well-being

Forests and trees are pivotal to many aspects of human life, for people residing on the fringe or inside forests, both in urban and rural areas. Forests and trees can contribute significantly to human well-being and the alleviation of poverty. However, forests and forest-related livelihoods have also suffered from the impact of human efforts in achieving human well-being and the implementation of SDGs. Research and case study results, lessons learned and best practices of how human well-being is achieved through forests, as well as how forests and trees are sustainably managed and conserved for the benefit of ecosystem and human sustainability, need to be widely discussed in order to find solutions.

4.4 The complexity of forest governance

Forest governance is a complex issue, involving topics related to land tenure and access rights, conflicts and human rights, community forestry, forest history, culture and traditional knowledge, food, water and energy security, gender, youth, and equitable benefit sharing, among others. These multiple dimensions are closely linked to the transformative promise of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “to leave no-one behind.” Scaling up successful policies and instruments addressing these topics and managing their trade-offs is one of the key challenges for transformative change to advance sustainable, inclusive and resilient societies. Contributions showcasing research, lessons learned and best practices are welcome.


THEME 5: Forests for the future

Actions to protect and support the sustainable use of forests require updated methodologies and innovative approaches, to allow local-to-global programming and improve capacity building and knowledge development, communication and outreach. Filling in knowledge gaps and raising a generation of young forest experts will improve the accuracy of forest accounting and predictions, a crucial part of the strategy to meet climate mitigation targets, protect forests and consolidate the role of the forest sector in the global environmental context.

5.1 Innovation on forest research and emerging methodologies

This sub-theme fosters a paradigm shift, from a highly manual and analog approach to a system with digital data capture and planning precision forestry. Due to innovative emerging methodologies and technologies, we now have the capacity of: enhanced forest monitoring and inventory; simulating stressors and disturbances under realistic conditions; applying forestry 4.0 principles; developing certification schemes; or developing decision-making in forest management. Innovation is carried out via developments in remote sensing (e.g. lidar, sentinel), open-air controlled condition facilities (e.g. FACE facilities), precision forestry approaches (e.g. electrification, automation), advanced procurement systems (e.g. environmental sensors, GPS, remote operations), and digital, information and communication technologies (e.g. scanning by smartphones, cyber systems, internet of the forest, data analytics, big data, DSS, AI, on-demand production).

5.2 Modelling the future of our forests: projections and uncertainties

Forest ecologists increasingly rely on complex computer simulations to forecast responses of forest ecosystems in the future. Robust projections need that such forecasts are more precise; therefore, uncertainties in model parameters and structure must be quantified and potentially reduced and correctly propagated to model outputs. Thus, to explore these problems in more detail and to provide an overview of the current strategies for robust forest projections are of paramount importance.

5.3 Quality forest education

Education is a critical step to safeguarding natural resources for future generations. As technology, society, and climate are rapidly changing, it is necessary to create and strengthen new educational paths at all levels of education. In addition, capacity building for entrepreneurs, sustainable businesses, governments, and investors is strategic to scale up actions to conserve and restore our forests. The Congress provides a forum to highlight existing initiatives of teaching and learning. This sub-theme explores the development of different teaching techniques to adapt to current and future challenges, leverage the use of virtual tools to increase outreach, and understand their limitations to reach rural, underrepresented and vulnerable groups.