06.07.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Testing grounds for sustainable development

© Göthenbur, Advanced study in handicraft in Mariestad - Lake Vänern Archipelago, Sweden

The concept of sustainable development is broad and open-ended, so much so that it can be difficult to imagine in practice. A unique programme has been experimenting in the real world – for the past 4 decades.

The Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) aims to reconcile the conservation of biological diversity with socio-economic needs and cultural integrity – in short, sustainable development. The biosphere is the entire space on earth that is relevant to living beings: the lower part of the atmosphere and the outermost layer of the solid planet including the seas, soil and water. Without the biosphere there would be no human, animal or plant life on earth.

Over time, activities within MAB have progressively focused on the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, sites of excellence where new and optimal practices to manage nature and human activities are tested and demonstrated. Biosphere reserves are not nature parks; they include communities and urban areas. They promote models of sustainable development based on sound science, economic development which respects the environment and cultural values of local populations. They often have highly innovative and participative governance systems, and the resulting initiatives are diverse applications of the notion of sustainable development. Increasingly, biosphere reserves are recognized and used for the monitoring and mitigation of climate change.

The World Network is composed of 580 sites in 114 countries, with new sites being considered for inclusion next week by the International Co-ordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC). The Network serves to share knowledge, build capacity and promote best practices and international cooperation. As the MAB-ICC prepares for its 24th session, we will present some examples of successful sustainable development initiatives that are currently being tested and implemented in biosphere reserves. Look for them on our website!

It is true that the very first sites were essentially aimed at conservation and research projects. In the beginning, they often had no concrete planning to enable the application of the concept of sustainable development. Over time, a mechanism was created to address the gap between the concept and reality: a periodic review undertaken for each biosphere reserve every ten years to examine and improve, as necessary, the degree to which the biosphere reserves respected the criteria of combining conservation, research and sustainable development. This process is now a means of measuring evolution and change. It is also an opportunity to have a broad consultation with the actors and to review the functioning of the biosphere reserves.

Thirty-two periodic review reports from 21 countries will be examined by the MAB-ICC during its 24th session in Paris on 9-13 July 2012. Another item on the agenda is the definition of a way forward for those sites that cannot, or can no longer, fulfill the criteria for biosphere reserves by 2013 as defined by the Madrid Action Plan, i.e. update zonation, management and implement strategies combining conservation, research and sustainable development initiatives. Many of these sites have great societal value and international significance for research on issues related to human-environment interactions. One of the options under discussion is the possible creation of a new category of sites: Support/study sites for the MAB Programme.

During this session, the Coordinating Council will examine new proposals and applications for extensions from 22 countries.

The Council will also examine applications for the MAB Awards for young scientists. Every year since 1989, ten young researchers have received awards of up to US$ 5,000 to support their research into ecosystems, natural resources and biodiversity.

The winner of the $6,000 Michel Batisse Award will also be announced. This prize is awarded every two years for excellence in the management of the biosphere reserves.

But the first item was the election of the council’s new Chair.
Prof. Boshra B. Salem, an expert on sustainable development in dryland ecosystems from Egypt, was elected unanimously during the opening session on 9 July 2012. She is the first woman to hold this position.

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