Urban Systems

A reinvigorated urban ecosystem initiative: celebration of the Shanghai World Expo’s theme: "Better Cities, Better Life"

As MAB approaches its 40th anniversary in 2011, it was necessary and timely to launch a reinvigorated urban ecosystem initiative. With partners that include the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) and others, the International Symposium on Urban Futures and Human and Ecosystem Wellbeing was held in Shanghai, China, on 26-30 October, 2010. The symposium brought together scientists, researchers, planners and managers concerned by the impacts of rapid urbanization, unsustainable development and the excessive consumption of resources of cities on the ecological wellbeing of the larger region to reinvent the urban ecosystem mission of the UNESCO-MAB Programme. The adopted Shanghai Declaration on Urban Futures and Human and Ecosystem Wellbeing emphasizes the need to further strengthen and support interdisciplinary and international cooperation on sustainable urban development in existing, new, and rapidly expanding cities.

UNESCO-MAB and SCOPE have established joint International Expert Group for the Urban Futures Programme which dedicates to further advance the concept of sustainable urban development. The joint policy relevant, research, assessment, capacity building and outreach Programme contains several major areas, including making full use of UNESCO MAB biosphere reserves to enhance urban sustainability and to improve the relationships between cities and the ecosystems of which they are a part.


UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Urban Group: contributing to sustainable urban development

Unsustainable city development continues at an alarming rate worldwide. The MAB Urban Group, launched in 2000, investigates biosphere reserves' contributions to sustainable urban development, and helps to develop the agenda for urban ecosystem research and policy-making within UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme. This web section notably allows members of the Urban Group to share information.

A renewed interest in further investigating the urban area / biosphere reserve interface
The fact that urban sprawl and unsustainable city development continue at an alarming rate worldwide, at the same time as the biosphere reserve concept today perhaps is more popular than ever as a model for sustainability, prompted a renewed interest in seeking to further investigate the urban area/ biosphere reserve interface.

An important step forward to carry-out this investigation was the establishment in year 2000 of the MAB ad hoc Working Group to Explore the Application of the Biosphere Reserve Concept to Urban Areas and their Hinterlands (the MAB Urban Group). Its objectives are:

  • To identify contributions that the biosphere reserve concept has made or could make in urban planning and management, including in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity with its focus on the ecosystem approach
  • To examine if there is, or should be, a place for urban areas and cities in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (beyond as transition areas)
  • To explore alternative ways and means of recognizing selected cities, or parts thereof, as sites that exemplify the biosphere reserve model
  • To stimulate a discussion within MAB and with relevant partner institutions and organizations, on the development of an agenda for possible future MAB activities in this area

A limited number of Biosphere Reserves have been established just outside major cities

Examples include:

The biosphere reserve concept is evolving and its model for sustainability is increasingly popular
The World Network of Biosphere Reserves is the major instrument for promoting biodiversity conservation and sustainable development within UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB).

Having evolved from traditional protected area approaches, in particular national parks, the biosphere reserve concept and the World Network have usually been associated with more pristine, scarcely populated environments than what urban areas and their hinterlands offer. However, the biosphere reserve concept is an evolving one and, following the Seville Conference and the adoption of the Seville Strategy, more emphasis is now put on sustainable development objectives and on more large scale, regional, conservation and development concerns.


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