A History

The Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme was conceived; planned and launched forty years ago. It has a scientific basis and involves numerous actors. It combines research, education and training, includes demonstration sites and produces information for various constituencies. The MAB programme involves cooperation at all levels: local, national, regional and international. It combines ‘philosophical visions’ and innovative concepts, by cooperative work to resolve problems in selected parts of the biosphere where people live and work. The MAB programme is firmly anchored in national priorities and efforts.

The global aim is to reconcile conservation and biological diversity with socio-economic demands and cultural integrity, in short: sustainable development. Today, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) is made up of 580 biosphere reserves in 114 countries.

In 2011 the MAB’s International Coordinating Council (ICC)  met for its 23rd session. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary, a conference, ‘For Life, for the Future: biosphere reserves and climate change’, involving experts from around the world, was held in Dresden, Germany, just before the Council’s meeting.

This 40th anniversary of the creation of the MAB programme is the chance to make a new assessment of the experience so far and to learn lessons.

A Dynamic Programme

At the time of its launch in September 1968 the MAB programme benefited from the experience of the International Biological Program and was elaborated at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Biosphere Conference in September 1968. The MAB programme was launched at UNESCO’s 1970 General Conference. It covers a broad spectrum of ecosystems: terrestrial and aquatic, from the polar regions to the tropics. It was not time bound.

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, 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; and 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 580 reserves in 114 countries in 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; and agro-ecosystems. Cooperation is also promoted through various regional and sub-regional networks.

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