Biosphere reserves: UNESCO in the mountains

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UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, has a long history of activities in mountain areas.

Foremost among these has been the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme. Project 6 of this programme focussed on mountain areas; in 1995, Martin Price published a review and assessment of activities in Europe.

Currently, the main operational tool of the MAB programme is the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR). Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems nominated by national governments, designated by UNESCO and thus internationally recognised. They remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located.

According to the Statutory Framework for the WNBR, adopted by UNESCO's General Assembly in 1996, "biosphere reserves should strive to be sites of excellence to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development at a regional scale".

The first biosphere reserves were designated in 1976. As of August 2006, the WNBR consists of 482 biosphere reserves in 102 countries. A significant proportion of these are in mountain areas. In preparation for the International Year of Mountains, the CMS and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Cambridge) developed a website and CD to bring attention to UNESCO's activities in mountain areas around the world. These include not only biosphere reserves, but also natural and cultural World Heritage sites and projects within the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) and the International Hydrological Programme (IHP).

In 2010, staff at the Centre for Mountain Studies conducted a periodic review of biosphere reserves.

Full citation: Price, M.F., Park, J.J. and Bouamrane, M. (2010). Reporting progress on internationally-designated sites: the periodic review of biosphere reserves. Environmental Science and Policy, 8: 549-557.