Commission on Ecosystem Management

Biosphere Reserves

Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras

Thematic Group Leader  Martin Price  Bio

Thematic Group Co-Leader Esperanza Arnés Prieto. Bio

SC Focal Point Liette Vasseur

The thematic group on Biosphere Reserves is one of the newest groups of the CEM. It aims to better connect the work of the Commission regarding issues such as ecosystem-based assessment, ecosystem governance, and resilience to activities within biosphere reserves, and to enhance collaborations between UNESCO and IUCN.  Biosphere Reserves are excellent locations to examine how to implement the SDGs, Aichi Targets and other agreements on the ground.

The World Network of Biosphere Reserves, currently comprising 669 sites/regions designated by UNESCO in 120 countries since 1976, is a unique global network explicitly linking sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.  While the core area(s) and sometimes buffer zone(s) of all biosphere reserves (BRs) comprise protected areas as recognised by IUCN, the outer transition area, where most of the inhabitants of BRs live, cannot be regarded as a protected area – often, these transition areas include towns and cities.

The Lima Action Plan for UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme and its World Network of Biosphere Reserves (2016-2015) states that BRs should be ‘models for sustainable development’, and that these models should be globally diffused and applied.  Equally, BRs should be promoted as places that actively contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and implementing Multilateral Environmental Agreements, e.g., the Aichi Biodiversity targets.  With a strong emphasis on stakeholder involvement, BRs may be regarded as ‘Science for Sustainability support sites’ – special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including those relating to climate change, ecosystem services, and green economies.

There are therefore many common interests and potentials for synergies between CEM and UNESCO’s MAB Programme, which has its principal focus on BRs; this provides the rationale for the CEM Thematic Group on Biosphere Reserves.


To explore the opportunities that biosphere reserves provide to promote sustainable development, including biodiversity conservation, through ecosystem approaches, and stimulate the integration of the resulting knowledge in planning and decision-making across the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and beyond.


In collaboration with the MAB Programme, especially its Secretariat and networks, to:

  • Stimulate research on how different approaches to ecosystem management, governance and funding of biosphere reserves can support sustainable development and the delivery of ecosystem services at regional scales, particularly in the context of climate change.
  • Communicate the potential of biosphere reserves as models for sustainable ecosystem management and for mitigation and adaptation to climate change to governments, communities, corporations and the general public.
  • Explore the potential for BRs to be used to monitor the implementation of the SDGs and of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
  • Provide support when needed to the IUCN Secretariat on relevant issues in policy documents.

Expected outcomes

  • A strong, sustainable and proactive partnership between IUCN CEM and the MAB Programme, building on their shared objectives
  • CEM members directly contributing to events and initiatives organized by MAB regional and thematic networks.
  • A joint CEM-MAB publication presenting case studies of the contributions of biosphere reserves to the implementation of the SDGs and MEAs, and key lessons learned.
  • Contributions by CEM members published in the International Journal of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves
  • A special issue of the International Journal for Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services and Management focusing on biosphere reserves.
  • Others to be defined by TG members (see below)

Planned activities

  • An online survey of CEM members to identify which are working in/with biosphere reserves, MAB networks and other UNESCO structures (e.g., UNESCO Chairs), and on what topics.
  • After analysis, publication of the results as an open access database, and use of the results to define specific further activities.
  • Biannual newsletter (pdf) showcasing case studies and relevant publications of CEM members.
  • Targeted information about the TG and its activities disseminated via MAB communication channels and in MAB network meetings, to increase awareness of the partnership and solicit new members for CEM (who will be asked to contribute information to the database).
  • Preparation of a joint CEM-MAB publication presenting case studies of the contributions of biosphere reserves to the implementation of the SDGs and MEAs, and key lessons learned.
  • Others to be defined by TG members and in collaboration with MAB Programme and concerned UNESCO Chairs.
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