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Geology, Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Ecosystems and biodiversity provide basic goods and services that are crucial for reducing poverty and economic development; their sustainable management is at the interface of scientific, environmental, societal and development issues. The Earth sciences hold key answers to the challenges we must overcome to preserve our environment and develop sustainably.   

The Earth sciences are essential to understanding current global change, to helping us sustain the Earth, and to giving countries the capacity to manage their mineral resources. UNESCO's International Geoscience and Geoparks Programme (IGGP) is implemented through two activities:  the  International  Geoscience  Programme,  a  co-operative  venture  with  the  International  Union  of  Geological  Sciences  (IUGS),  and  the  UNESCO  Global  Geoparks. The International Geosciences Programme (IGCP) promotes international collaboration in the geological sciences with special emphasis on projects and geoscientists from developing countries. It promotes concrete projects with a clear societal orientation for sustainable development, including natural disaster mitigation, medical geology and mineral and groundwater resource extraction. Since its inception in 1972 more than 340 international cooperation projects on the Earth’s geology in about 150 countries have contributed to building knowledge on geological resources and processes and to creating networks of geoscientists. UNESCO Global Geoparks promote sites of international geological value and are the basis of local sustainable development. There are more than 160 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 44 countries.

A better understanding of the Earth is also essential for preserving the diversity of life and sustaining the future of human society. Human beings are an integral part of the Earth’s biosphere. For  more than 40 years the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme has been concerned with the interface of human activity and the rest of the biosphere, or the relationship between humans and nature. Through the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR), over 600 biosphere reserves in around 120 countries site-specific examples of how humans live with nature in a sustainable way, are highlighted and promoted.

Biosphere reserves demonstrate ways to safeguard natural ecosystems and biodiversity through science, education and participatory approaches while at the same time promoting innovative economic development that is environmentally sustainable and socially and culturally appropriate. MAB focuses on specific ecosystems in biosphere reserves including mountains, drylands, tropical forests, urban systems, wetlands, and marine, island and coastal systems. Biosphere reserves are increasingly used as pilot sites for testing mitigation and adaptation to climate change, green economies and as sites for collaboration with other international innovative environmental initiatives.

Biodiversity loss, along with climate change, is one of the great global challenges of our time.  UNESCO’s knowledge and networks in the areas of education, the natural, social and human sciences, culture and communication provides a multidisciplinary perspective to enrich the international policy response to the biodiversity crisis. UNESCO contributes to the recently established Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). IPBES aims to provide accurate, impartial and up-to-date science to inform policy decisions and biodiversity conventions just as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides for the climate change conventions. UNESCO supports IPBES to recognize and respect the contribution of indigenous and local knowledge to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems.