30.06.2011 - Natural Sciences Sector

UNESCO biosphere reserves and World Heritage sites: spot the difference

© UNESCO/A. StoškusZuvintas reedbed nature trail, Lithuania

Today, UNESCO designated 18 new biosphere reserves to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of the Man and the Biosphere programme (MAB). Also this week, UNESCO added 25 new cultural, natural and mixed sites to the World Heritage List. Five of the 25 news properties inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List were added for their outstanding natural or mixed (natural and cultural) properties. Some biosphere reserves are also World Heritage sites. What is the difference between these 2 types of UNESCO designation?

UNESCO Biosphere reserves (580 sites in 114 countries) are site-specific examples of sustainable development. They aim to reconcile people with nature, are established by countries and recognized under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme. 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. Increasingly, biosphere reserves are recognized and used as learning places for sustainable development and for the monitoring and mitigation of climate change. 

UNESCO World Heritage sites are properties which are inscribed under the World Heritage Convention for their outstanding universal value. The main concerns are the conservation and management of exceptional natural and cultural sites, as well as raising awareness for heritage preservation.

More than 80 sites are both UNESCO biosphere reserves and World Heritage sites, including Uluru, the immense sandstone monolith found in the Australian desert, the “W” region shared by Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, Japan’s Yakushima Island or Lake Baikal in the Russian Federation.

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