23.05.2011 -

UNESCO-Columbia University Joint Programme on Biosphere and Society (CUBES)

UNESCO and Columbia University jointly organised the International Conference on Biodiversity and Society in New York on 22-25 May 2001.

This Conference was the result of over a year of joint efforts by teams of researchers, policy makers and local stakeholders at nine sites of high biological diversity and social, economic and cultural importance. To facilitate tangible results, the Conference built on case studies conducted in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and similar sites selected for their high biological diversity and social, economic and cultural importance. The case studies provided an opportunity to discuss, identify and develop viable economic, social and political strategies for the long-term management of these sites, which were selected so as to be representative of the world's major ecological, cultural and geographic systems. The most important selection criterion was however that there be people at each site who understand the multi-dimensional nature of the challenges they face and who can articulate these clearly to an international audience.

One of the case studies presented at the Conference dealt with the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. This case study, entitled "Biodiversity Conservation and Social Justice in the Tonle Sap Watershed: The Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve", was prepared by a group of Cambodian officials from the different ministries concerned and researchers. For the preparation of the case study, several multi-stakeholder workshops were organised in the country, allowing local stakeholders' direct input into shaping the conference discussion. H.E. Mok Mareth, Minister for Environment, presented the Tonle Sap case study at the Conference, leading the Cambodia delegation that included H.E. May Sam Oeun, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, H.E. Veng Sakhom, Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, Mr. Nao Thouk, Director of Fisheries Department, and Mr. Neou Bonheur, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve Secretariat, as well as representatives from the Mekong River Commission and Wildlife Conservation Society. The case study provided an overview of the biodiversity status, the complexity of the current environmental governance in Tonle Sap region and its relationship with society.

As follow-up action to the Conference, UNESCO and Columbia University have established the Columbia University–UNESCO Joint Programme on Biosphere and Society (CUBES). In the 2002-2004 period, the programme provides access to a virtual knowledge centre for environmental researchers, practitioners, government officials and activists in six sites located in different countries, including the Tonle Sap watershed. The entire network serves as a knowledge management tool. It is proposed to establish at Columbia University a portal linking people and knowledge at sites to the global community. This will include comprehensive websites for CUBES and its sites featuring thematic pages, expert papers and links, digital conferencing and e-seminars. The dissemination of knowledge will be a continuing process, involving site-specific seminars, thematic seminars, video profiles, on-line workshops and regularly updated CDs for locations where network access is limited.

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