The Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme

The MAB programme is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for enhancing the relationship between people and their environments. It combines the natural and social sciences with a view to improving human livelihoods and safeguarding natural and managed ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable.

The World Network of Biosphere Reserves currently counts 738 sites in 134 countries all over the world, including 22 transboundary sites.

What are Biosphere Reserves?

Biosphere reserves are ‘learning places for sustainable development’. They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity. They are places that provide local solutions to global challenges. Biosphere reserves include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each site promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.

Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Biosphere Reserves are designated under the intergovernmental MAB Programme by the Director-General of UNESCO following the decisions of the MAB International Coordinating Council (MAB ICC). Their status is internationally recognized. Member States can submit sites through the designation process. In order to assist the stakeholders with the designation process, as well as periodic reviews, Technical Guidelines are being progressively created by the MAB International Co-ordinating Council.

OUR VISION is a world where people are conscious of their common future and their interactions with the planet, and act collectively and responsibly to build thriving societies in harmony within the biosphere. The MAB programme and its World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) serve this vision through biosphere reserves and beyond.

OUR MISSION for the period 2015–2025 is to:

  • Develop and strengthen models of sustainable development through the WNBR;
  • Communicate experiences and lessons learned, and facilitate the global diffusion and application of these models;
  • Support evaluation and high-quality management of biosphere reserves, strategies and policies for sustainable development and planning, and accountable and resilient institutions;
  • Help Member States and stakeholders to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by sharing experiences and lessons learned related to exploring and testing policies, technologies and innovations for the sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources and mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

How does MAB work?

UNESCO’s intergovernmental structure provides MAB with a framework to help national governments support the planning and implementation of research and training programmes with technical assistance and scientific advice.

Participating countries establish MAB National Committees that ensure maximum national participation in the international programme, defining and implementing each country’s activities. MAB currently operates through 158 National Committees established among the 195 Members States and nine Associate Members States of UNESCO.

The agenda of the MAB programme is defined by its main governing body, the International Coordinating Council. The MAB Council consists of 34 Member States elected by UNESCO’s General Conference. The Council elects a chair and five vice-chairpersons from each of UNESCO’s geopolitical regions, one of which functions as a rapporteur. These constitute the MAB Bureau.

The MAB Secretariat is based at UNESCO’s Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences, and works closely with the different field offices around the world to coordinate the work of the MAB programme at national and regional levels. Its staff members draw on expertise in many and varied disciplines.

MAB is funded through the regular budget of UNESCO and mobilizes funds-in-trust granted by Member States, bilateral and multilateral sources, and extra-budgetary funds provided by countries, the private sector and private institutions. MAB-related activities are nationally financed. The Programme can grant seed funding to assist countries in developing projects and/or to secure appropriate partnership contributions.