10.06.2014 -

Connecting the Biosphere - Jönköpings-Posten (Sweden)

Joint article by the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and the Minister of Environment of Sweden, Lena Ek, published in Jönköpings-Posten (Sweden) on 10 June 2014.

The Canadian geographer, Edward Relph, once wrote: ‘To be human is to live in a world that is filled with significant places: to be human is to have and know your place.’

Biosphere reserves are precisely such ‘significant places’, created to conserve biological and cultural diversity and to nurture values and knowledge for living sustainably. On a planet under pressure, at a time when all countries are seeking new ideas for inclusive and sustainable development, this has never been more important.

Managing the biosphere means managing the relationship between human development and the environment. It means understanding and acting on the symbiosis between natural ecosystems and social and economic processes. It means grasping the inter-dependence between biological and cultural diversity.

These ideas underpin the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which includes today 621 sites in 117 countries. Each of them shows how local communities in different environments and cultures have forged a variety of ways to manage resources sustainably, drawing on traditional knowledge, creativity and resources.

The Network of Reserves embodies our commitment to identifying these linkages and reconciling the conservation of biological and cultural diversity with social and economic processes.

It is in these places that the ‘local’ meets the ‘global’ and makes its greatest impact for sustainable development. These are meeting spots for inspiration and innovation, implementing on the ground the concepts of sustainable tourism, renewable energy and organic agriculture.

Ordinary women and men – especially the young -- must be in the driving seat for protecting the biosphere, and this is a key lesson for the new global sustainable development agenda that will follow 2015. We need to connect people more deeply with the biosphere, with biodiversity and the ecosystems that sustain life.

The 26th International Co-ordinating Council of the Programme is being held in Jônkoping, in the East Vattern Landscape Biosphere Reserve, the youngest of Sweden’s five biosphere reserves. This is an important moment to share experience and lessons from the local to the global level. It is also a key opportunity to inspire young women and men, so they can carry the torch forward.

The reserves are strategic locations for studying and implementing climate change policies in practice – across the full range of ecosystems, from mountains, marine, coastal and island areas, tropical forests, drylands and urban areas to savannahs and agro-ecosystems. They are the only United Nations designated areas dedicated to responding to climate change on the lines of intergovernmentally-agreed principles.

Most of all, the reserves are about values – the values of trust, reciprocity and collective action, which are essential for responding to change and crafting innovative solutions. This engages Governments and local officials, along with local communities, civil society and the private sector.

The reserves remain under national jurisdiction, but the World Network allows them to share experience and ideas regionally and internationally. This is the goal of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme.

The world is more interdependent than ever – biosphere reserves show that we can make this interdependence a strength for better living and being on a healthier planet.

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