Opening Speech 13th Sept. 2016 - Martin Weih (IPC Chair)

Dear delegates, distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure and a great honor for me to welcome you in Berlin in Germany, which is the country in which I was born and have grown up. More than 50 years ago, the policies and concerns of the civil society in Germany still were dominated by the aftermath of World War 2, and it is in this context where we have to place the early days of the International Poplar Commission.

The IPC was founded two years after the end of World War 2 by nations that previously were fighting each other; and in a context in which families and societies that had been split as a consequence of the war. These developments still are clearly visible in Berlin, and in particular at the conference venue in Adlershof: The Adlershof area was Germany’s first air field for engine-powered flights founded by Graf Zeppelin in 1912. Thereafter it developed into a center of aviation research, and became the main Soviet collection point for Eastern German aviation and rocket technology, before it was converted to a large scientific research centre for physics, chemistry, materials, aviation, and cosmos research still under Soviet time. After the Berlin Wall fell, Adlershof developed to Germany’s largest science and technology park. The history of the conference venue Adlershof thus provides a perfect scenery not only for this IPC session with a focus on science-based solutions serving people, but also for the historic role of science for the development of societies through sharing knowledge, materials and people. These attributes were also the driving forces behind the foundation of the IPC, i.e. the re-establishment of links between people and societies through mutual support by sharing of knowledge, materials and people. With its origin in European countries, the IPC is today an important actor in spreading and sharing the scientific and technical knowledge obtained by its early members, which were mainly European Countries, to the benefit of many other Countries especially in the Middle East, Eastern Asia and South America.

As the previous speakers already pointed out, the IPC is one of the oldest statutory bodies within the framework of the FAO; and it is the only statutory body of the FAO with a strong focus on forests and trees. The trees of our main concern, poplars and willows, are multi-purpose species and form an important component of forestry and agricultural production systems worldwide, often owned by small-scale farmers. Thus, poplars, willows and other fast-growing trees play critical roles in providing wood and fiber for a wide range of forest products and are an increasingly important resource for the production of biofuel. In addition, they contribute to the restoration of degraded lands in agriculture and forestry and to combating desertification on difficult sites. In the future, these trees could strongly contribute to the conversion of societies from fossil-based economies to more bio-based economies that make greater use of raw materials produced by plants. To achieve this, new scientific knowledge is needed on the functional and mechanistic relationships that are important for tree growth, wood quality establishment and their interactions with the biotic and abiotic environment. In this context, it is worth mentioning that poplars and willows are today accepted as sound biological models for all commercial trees, making the research results for example on their molecular genetics and genomics, physiology and ecology particularly relevant and interesting also for other trees.

In the four years since the IPC community last met in Dehradun, India in 2012, a wealth of information has been generated in various scientific disciplines. This body of knowledge represents an indispensable resource from which new applications for the sustainable production and use of renewable biomass will surely emerge. The theme of the 25th session of the IPC, Poplars and Other Fast-Growing Trees - Renewable Resources for Future Green Economies, was chosen in view of the current challenges in moving towards green, bio-based economies and the opportunities offered by fast-growing trees to contribute to these developments. The theme of this session also reflects the current reform of the IPC convention, including a broadening of the focus from addressing poplars and willows towards stronger consideration of also other fast-growing trees sustaining people and the environment. I am convinced that this reform package of the IPC convention will provide great opportunities for considering broader geographic and socio-economic scopes and placing greater attention to the world-wide concerns about climate, biodiversity and sustainability.

I wish you an enjoyable and productive time in Berlin, a hotspot of European history and science; and I am looking forward to working with you on issues related to the use of poplars, willows and other fast-growing trees in the transition of societies towards green and more bio-based economies in the future.

For the coming days, I wished we all could share the spirit of a man who here in Berlin, at the climax of the split between East and West, managed to stimulate belief in a future through collaboration, in spite of all the threats that were the dominating issues during these days, and I end by quoting John F. Kennedy in his famous speech he held in 1963: “Ich bin ein Berliner!”. In this sense, let us try to be “Berliner” for the coming days!

Thank you.
M. Weih