Man and the Biosphere Programme
The Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB, or MaB) of UNESCO was established in 1971 to promote interdisciplinary approaches to management, research and education in ecosystem conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
A biosphere reserve is an area proposed by its residents, ratified by a national committee, and designated by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) program, which demonstrates innovative approaches to living and working in harmony with nature. One of the primary objectives of MAB is to achieve a sustainable balance between the goals of conserving biological diversity, promoting economic development, and maintaining associated cultural values.
The term ‘biosphere’ refers to all of the land, water and atmosphere that supply life on earth. The word ‘reserve’ means that it is a special area recognized for balancing conservation with sustainable use. The term ‘reserve’ does not mean that these places are set aside from human use and development. In fact, the study of human use is an important part of the biosphere reserve program.
Each biosphere reserve demonstrates practical approaches to balancing conservation and human use of an area. They are excellent examples of community-based initiatives that protect the natural environment while ensuring the continued healthy growth of the local economy.
Biosphere reserves recognize that quality economies require quality environments and that conservation is important for both. The biosphere reserve program is entirely voluntary. Authority over land and water use does not change when a biosphere reserve is designated in Canada. Government jurisdictions and private ownership rights remain as they were before designation. The World Biosphere Reserve Network currently consists of 621 biosphere reserves in 117 countries. Canada currently has a network of 16 biosphere reserves.
The MAB programme’s primary achievement is the creation in 1977 of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. This World Network is more than a listing -- biosphere reserves exchange knowledge and experiences on sustainable development innovations across national and continental borders -- they exist in more than 100 countries all across the world. Biosphere reserves are areas that are supposed to develop innovative approaches, test them and share the results; more importantly to combine many different approaches in a vast diversity of policy and management fields, towards a balanced relationship between mankind and nature. In order for an area to be included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, work on the ground has to have started, appropriate information about the region gathered, and the local population needs to have agreed. Nominations then are prepared and submitted to UNESCO by national governments, in most cases through MAB national committees. Benefits gained from being part of the network include access to a shared base of knowledge and incentives to integrate conservation, development and scientific research on sustainably manage ecosystems.
Owing to the MAB programme’s focus to improving mankind's relationship with nature, MAB has gradually been seen as UNESCO’s, and as one of the United Nations’s most important responses to international dialogues such as the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Ahead of the 1990s, the MAB programme was a research programme organized along 14 large research projects addressing ecosystems such as mountain areas, arid lands, etc.
During the initial years of the MAB programme, the designation of biosphere reserves focused on research questions and on environmental conservation. Hence, there are several national parks among the areas included in the network - these mostly encompass isolated wilderness with outstanding biodiversity values. In the early 1990s, the MAB programme’s focus shifted to promoting interactions of mankind with nature in terms of sustainable living, income generation and reducing poverty. In biosphere reserves, nature is not isolated from man, but it is conserved through using it. Hence, they are places where livelihood is sustained - even urban greenbelts can be found among the biosphere reserves.
In 1995, the second World Congress of Biosphere Reserves held in Seville formally defined and designated a set of objectives and procedures governing the recognition of potential biosphere reserves based on this strategic thrust (Seville Strategy and the International Guidelines). Criteria have been set to ensure that the objectives of the programme will be met. A regular evaluation of biosphere reserves is obligatory. Therefore, many biosphere reserves which had been included during the 1970s and 1980s have in the meantime either been withdrawn from the World Network or redefined so as to remain relevant to this new setting. All relevant decisions in the MAB Programme are taken by an intergovernmental committee, the MAB International Co-ordinating Council (ICC): The 38 members of the ICC are government representatives which are elected for a four-year term by the UNESCO General Conference. The Secretariat of the MAB Programme is located with UNESCO Headquarters Paris.
- Searchable list of UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves
- Frequently Asked Questions on Biosphere Reserve
- A-Z of Areas of Biodiverity Importance: Biosphere Reserves (MAB)