Biosphere reserves


Launched in 1971, UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) focuses on biosphere reserves as areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems where solutions are sought to balance biodiversity conservation with its sustainable use. Biosphere reserves act as “living laboratories” for sustainable development.

The biosphere reserves together form a global network, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which provides a framework for sharing information, experiences and manpower. In 2015, there were 651 biosphere reserves in 120 countries (including 15 transboundary sites).

Biosphere reserves have three interrelated zones serving three complementary functions:

  • The core area comprises a strictly protected ecosystem that contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation;
  • The buffer zone surrounds or adjoins the core areas, and is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training and education;
  • The transition area is the part of the reserve where the greatest activity is allowed, fostering economic and human development that is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.

Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and then internationally recognised by the MAB Programme. UNESCO coordinates the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and promotes their international cooperation. These reserves have three interconnected functions:

  • Conservation to protect genetic resources, species, ecosystems and landscapes;
  • Development to foster sustainable economic and human development;
  • Logistical support to underpin and encourage research, education, training and monitoring activities associated with conservation and sustainable development activities of local, national and global utility.

Biosphere reserves are driven largely by global sustainable development moves such as the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi Targets, designed to consistently and efficiently achieve the three goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and, more recently, the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals.

The 4th World Congress of Biosphere Reserves will be held in Lima, Peru from 14 to 17 March 2016.

France joined the programme right from the outset and was one of the first countries to set up a national committee, the MAB-France Committee, to steer it in France. The MAB-France Committee has drawn up a commitment charter to encourage socioeconomic players to take forward their commitment to the environment and sustainable development in these reserves. France currently hosts 14 biosphere reserves, two of which share borders with Germany and Italy.

France will be hosting the next meeting of the European network of biosphere reserves, EuroMAB, in the Dordogne Basin biosphere reserve in 2017. The MAB-France Committee has developed a Master’s Degree course at the University of Toulouse for French-speaking students to learn specifically about how to manage biosphere reserves. The course has already trained students from France, Algeria, Cameroon, Congo, DRC and Guinea. Members of the French cooperation network (French Agency for Development and French Global Environment Facility) have supported and continue to support projects involving biosphere reserves, in Africa in particular.