MAB: A potted history
Benefiting from the experiences of the International Biological Programme, MAB was conceived at the International Biosphere Conference of September 1968. Launched by UNESCO’s General Conference in 1970, it covers a spectrum of terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems, from polar to tropical zones. There is no pre-determined closing date.
At its first session in November 1971, the MAB Council defined the overall objective of the Programme: ‘to develop the basis within the natural and social sciences for the rational use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere and for the improvement of the global relationship between man and the environment; to predict the consequences of today’s actions on tomorrow’s world and thereby to increase man’s ability to manage efficiently the natural resources of the biosphere’.
To approach that objective, the Council created thirteen (later fourteen) international themes or project areas - some dealing with human interactions with different types of ecosystems (forests, grazing lands, etc.) or physiographic units (e.g. mountains, islands, cities); others were concerned with processes or impacts which may occur anywhere in the world (e.g. environmental perception, effects of biocides, large engineering works, pollutants).
As the Programme evolved in the 1970s, there was a concentration of activities on the humid tropics, arid and semi-arid zones, mountains, urban systems, and conservation and biosphere reserves. In 1981, activities to evaluate and mark ten years of MAB included an international conference ‘Ecology in Practice’ and an associated 36- poster exhibit ‘Ecology in Action’.
In 1983, the First Biosphere Reserve Congress in Minsk led to an Action Plan for Biosphere Reserves, which was adopted by the MAB Council in 1984.
In 1985-86, the General Scientific Advisory Panel took stock of accomplishments, identified shortcomings and recommended future directions for development. Four new research orientations were proposed and later adopted by the Council: ecosystem functioning under different intensities of human impact; management and restoration of human-impacted resources; human investment and resource use; human response to environmental stress.
In 1992, an Advisory Committee on Biosphere Reserves was set up, and in 1995 a major conference in Seville gave rise to the Seville Strategy for Biosphere Reserves and a Statutory Framework for the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. In 2000, a ‘Seville+5’ review took place in Pamplona, with further refinement, through the Madrid Action Plan, for Biosphere Reserves (2008-2013).
Over its 40 years, activities within MAB have progressively focused on the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (numbering 563 reserves in 109 countries by early 2011), as sites for conservation of biological diversity, long-term research and monitoring, education and training, and testing approaches to a more sustainable use of resources and sustainable development. Increasingly, biosphere reserves are recognized and used as learning places for sustainable development.
At the same time, ecosystem and theme-specific networks continue to provide valuable insights into sustainable development models and climate change mitigation and adaptation possibilities. They include networks and research, capacity-building and educational collaborations on mountains; coastal areas and islands; tropical forests; dry lands; urban areas; savannas;a and agro-ecosystems. Cooperation is also promoted through various regional and sub-regional networks.