Over the last three months the current COVID-19 crisis has affected the entire world. Theories about its origin underline the need for human beings on this planet to realize, more than ever, the impact of habitat destruction and land use change, not only with respect to climate and biodiversity loss, but also to human health.
In this context, biosphere reserves can be a powerful tool to remedy imbalances between humankind and nature. UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme oversees the establishment and successful management of biosphere reserves through an integrated approach to nature conservation and sustainable development.
The MAB Programme combines the natural and social sciences, economics and education to improve human livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits and to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems. The Programme promotes innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable.
The backbone of the Programme is the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. At present, the Network consists of 701 sites in 124 countries all over the world, including 21 transboundary sites. Each biosphere reserve promotes solutions that reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with sustainable use of its resources, so as to ensure ecosystem integrity. Together, these sites protect around 5% of the world’s terrestrial surface, with 1.5% under strict protection. Many more sites will join the Network with more and more countries adhering to the aims and targets of the Programme.
The MAB Programme has also achieved notable successes including in the reforestation of degraded areas, the protection and restoration of tropical forests, the sustainable use of coastal areas and many other activities. It has also protected species threatened with extinction such as great apes, which are potentially vulnerable to the novel COVID-19 virus, or the pangolin – an intermediate host of the coronavirus.
Despite the effects of the virus on human health, there are signs for hope. The slowdown in human activities has brought air pollution in many areas to its lowest levels in decades. Coastal waters previously disturbed by tourism have become clear. And bird life along migration routes is developing again with resting places for migratory birds now found in places normally frequented by tourists.
UNESCO, through its World Network of Biosphere Reserves, is supporting the environment, sustainable production systems and the eco-tourism activities of over 250 million people. Once this crisis has passed, together we can learn lessons and build more resilient societies. The MAB Programme would therefore like to pay tribute to each and every member of our MAB community for all your efforts as part of this Programme, for your continual support in your country, and for the considerable work you have undertaken at your sites.
We, the members of the MAB Community, the Secretariat, the site managers and the local people, are working together to address the demands of this unprecedented situation and to preserve these wonderful sites.
Director Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences
Secretary of the Man and the Biosphere Programme, UNESCO