27.06.2011 - Natural Sciences Sector

Biosphere reserves – Learning Sites for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

Biosphere reserves are sites recognized under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme that seek to reconcile biodiversity conservation and socio-economic development. Local communities are active in management, research, education and training projects in the Biosphere Reserves, making them sites of excellence for experimentation in sustainable development. UNESCO biosphere reserves are rarely places of ‘wilderness’ – much more often they are cultural landscapes that have evolved over centuries through human use.

They differ from other protected areas through their inclusion of the human dimension and their focus on development. In fact, the inhabitants of the area must support the application of a region for it to become a biosphere reserve. In each reserve, core protected areas combine with zones where sustainable development is fostered by local dwellers and enterprises with often highly innovative and participative governance systems.

Climate change is only one of several environmental challenges, in addition to loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, increasing water scarcity, as well as increasing floods and droughts, desertification and land degradation, intensified biogeochemical cycles as well as different forms of pollution. At the same time, climate change intensifies all these challenges, is causally interlinked with most of them and is the one with the most rapidly growing significance. Sea-level has already risen, the ocean is already more acid, corals are bleaching, climate variability has increased, vegetation zones are shifting, tropical diseases have already spread.

Thus, in this biennium (2010/2011), UNESCO works specifically on Promoting the use of participatory approaches for biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation through the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

In parallel, there have been major initiatives of the German government in recent years to advance the global climate change agenda. One initiative with particular relevance to biosphere reserves has been a special federal funding programme from 2008 until 2010 entitled ’UNESCO biosphere reserves as model regions for climate change mitigation and adaptation’ with 9 projects in German biosphere reserves. To celebrate MAB’s 40th anniversary, the German Minister for the Environment has invited the MAB Programme’s International Coordinating Council to hold its 23rd session in Dresden in June 2011.  In addition, a high-level international conference is organized ahead of the Council Session, specifically on the topic of biosphere reserves and climate change.

With a view to this conference, the German Commission for UNESCO in consultation with UNESCO and the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, has collected data from biosphere reserves worldwide to produce an overview of current good practice in Biosphere reserves.

The resulting publication presents 28 case studies documenting good practices in the fields of renewable energies, energy efficiency, carbon neutrality and carbon credits, managing natural resources and agriculture, north-south cooperation, participatory management, adapting management strategies, and sharing information and knowledge through the network, among others. Through the case studies, various region and ecosystem specific issues are analysed, such as desertification, floods, rising sea levels, and current challenges for Small Island Developing States.

It shows the full dimension of Biosphere reserves, as laboratories for research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision making. Biosphere reserves are a unique asset of UNESCO and they play an important role in its Climate Change Strategy. A central objective for the next few years is to promote the recognition and use of biosphere reserves sites as priority sites for implementing UN-level climate change initiatives.

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