Landmark process to strengthen the World Network of Biosphere Reserves adopted by International Coordinating Council


Itaipu Biosphere Reserve, Paraguay
© UNESCO / Itaipu Biosphere Reserve
19 June 2017

The 29th session of the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme came to a close on15 June 2017 in Paris, France, with the adoption of a Process of excellence and enhancement of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, to ensure that they serve as models for the implementation of the 2030 agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Since 2013, at the request of Member States at the MAB Council, further focus has been placed on raising the excellence of the Network and helping Member States set the required standards for their Biosphere Reserve to become fully functional and to comply with the criteria defined in 1995 under the Statutory Framework. Biosphere reserves constitute a unique Network that reconciles the social, environmental and economic aspects of development for sustainability, touching the lives of 206 million people. They have three interconnected functions of conservation, development and logistic support. The voluntary engagement of the local community is key to fully function as a biosphere reserve and find truly sustainable solutions for people and to create a sustainable livelihood.

The efforts deployed over the past 4 years have yielded encouraging results, leading to large number of Biosphere Reserves improving the zonation, governance and management aspects. Workshops and technical missions were organized to build capacity and improve the level of engagement of the sites. The objective was to help sites identify and address challenges, and to ensure that all of the sites included in the network are contributing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Initially, 270 sites in 75 countries did not meet the current criteria. More than two-thirds of these are now fully functional.

The situation of the Biosphere Reserves varies greatly. Some, located in conflict zones, are unable to report; transboundary sites face and additional layer of complexity and require more time for reporting; others may need further technical assistance to meet the criteria. However the vast majority of Biosphere Reserves concerned were nominated before 1995, before the current criteria and functions of Biosphere Reserves were defined by the Statutory Framework. When they joined the Network, they focused mainly on conservation. The development of the other Biosphere Reserve functions entails a shift towards voluntary engagement, involving local communities, with impacts on management practices. This transition takes time, but is essential to ensure the quality of the Network.

The ‘Process of excellence and enhancement of the WNBR as well as quality improvement of all members of the World Network’ adopted today defines a path towards improvement for the 85 biosphere reserves that still do not meet the criteria, or have not provided comprehensive information to enable the Council to assess and monitor their progress. The Process takes into consideration the varying situations of the sites concerned, and defines paths to resolve outstanding issues over the next two years, one for each type of situation. All biosphere reserves have until 2019 at the latest to become fully functional and report to the Council if they wish to remain in the Network. An exception is made for Biosphere Reserves in conflict zones.

The session was also the occasion to welcome new sites into the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, and to approve extensions and renaming to existing Biosphere Reserves. Young Scientists awards were granted to seven young researchers to encourage them to undertake work on ecosystems, natural resources and biodiversity, and Vladimira Fabriciusova, coordinator of the Polana Biosphere Reserve in Slovakia, received the Michel Batisse Award for her case study “Biosphere Reserve: an opportunity for humans and nature”.