The UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) was established in 1977 to promote an interdisciplinary approach to research, training and communications in ecosystem conservation and rational use of natural resources.
The programme’s primary output comes in the form of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves—a listing of local units, known as biosphere reserves, found in different countries across all the regions of the world. Biosphere reserves are areas that are meant to demonstrate a balanced relationship between man and nature (e.g. sustainable development).
Inclusion in the World Network starts with nominations as prepared by national governments. Benefits gained from being part of the network include the integration of conservation, development and scientific research concerns to sustainably manage the shared ecosystems.
Owing to the program’s focus to man’s relationship with nature, MAB has gradually been seen as UNESCO’s, and the United Nations’s, response to the issues raised by succeeding international dialogues dedicated to environmental concerns, such as the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
During the initial years of the program, the designation of biosphere reserves has focused more on the conservation of the environment per se. Hence, among areas that have been included in the network are national parks encompassing isolated wilderness with outstanding biodiversity values. Through the years, the program’s focus has shifted from the idea of isolated natural environs to one that allows for the interaction with man in terms of sustainable living and education. Hence, places where livelihood is sustained, including urban greenbelts have increasingly figured in the World Network.
In 1995, an International Conference on Biosphere Reserves held in Seville formally defined and designated a set procedure in the recognition and inclusion of potential biosphere reserves based on this newfound purpose into the World Network. Criteria have also been rigidly set to ensure that the objectives of the programme will be met. Thus, some biosphere reserves which have been included during the early phase of the program have either been withdrawn from the network or redefined so as to remain relevant to this new setting.
To date, 564 biosphere reserves in 109 countries have been included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
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