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Building peace in the minds of men and women

UNESCO's commitment to biodiversity

Conservation and sustainable use

Biodiversity is currently being lost at up to 1,000 times the natural rate. Some scientists are now referring to the crisis as the ‘Earth’s sixth mass extinction’, comparable to the last great extinction crisis 65 million years ago. These extinctions are irreversible and pose a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. Designation and management of protected areas is the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. However, despite an increase in the total number of protected areas in the world, biodiversity continues to decline.

An integrated landscape approach to conservation planning plays a key role in ensuring suitable habitats for species. However, many protected areas are not functioning as effectively as originally intended, due in part to limited resources to maintain these areas and/or enforce relevant legal frameworks. In addition, current protected area networks may need to be re-aligned to account for climate change. Efforts to preserve biodiversity must take into account not only the physical environment, but also social and economic systems that are well connected to biodiversity and ecosystem services. For protected areas to contribute effectively to a secure future for biodiversity, there is a need for measures to enhance the representativeness of networks, and to improve management effectiveness.

  • Growth in protected areas in many countries is helping to maintain options for the future, but sustainable use and management of territory outside protected areas remains a priority.
  • Measures to improve environmental status within conservation areas, combined with landscape-scale approaches, are urgently needed if their efficiency is to be improved.
  • Lack of adequate technical and financial resources and capacity can limit the upscaling of innovative solutions, demonstrating further the need for regional and subregional co-operation.
  • Capacity building is a key factor in the successful avoidance and reduction of land degradation and informed restoration.
  • Capacity development needs should be addressed at three levels: national, provincial and local.
  • There is a need for capacity building to enable sources outside government to inform relevant departments and policies on biodiversity (e.g. through consultancies, academia and think tanks).


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Conserving biodiversity and promoting sustainable use: sites, connected landscapes and networks

UNESCO works on the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of its components through UNESCO  designated  sites,  including  biosphere  reservesWorld  Heritage  sites  and  UNESCO  Global  Geoparks. In 2018, UNESCO designated sites protected over 10 million km2, an area equivalent to the size of China. These conservation instruments have adopted policies and strategies that aim to conserve these sites, while supporting the broader objectives of sustainable development. One such example is the policy on the integration of a sustainable development perspective into the processes of the World Heritage Convention.


The MAB Programme and the World Network of Biosphere Reserves: connecting landscapes and reconciling conservation with development

Biosphere reserves are designated under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme and promote solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use at local and regional scales. As of June 2018, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) consisted of 686 biosphere reserves in 122 countries, including 20 transboundary sites.

This dynamic and interactive network of sites works to foster the harmonious integration of people and nature for sustainable development through participatory dialogue, knowledge sharing, poverty reduction, human wellbeing improvements, respect or cultural values and efforts to improve society’s ability to cope with climate change. Progress has been achieved in connecting landscapes and protected areas through biosphere reserves, however further efforts are needed.


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Capacity building

Capacity building is needed to provide adequate support to Member States to attain the international biodiversity goals and the SDGs. In some countries, technical, managerial and institutional capacity to define guidelines for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is inadequate. Additionally, existing institutional and technical capacity is often fragmented and uncoordinated. As new ways of interacting with biodiversity emerge, it is essential that stakeholders are trained and have sufficient capacity to implement new and varied approaches. Further efforts will be needed therefore to facilitate capacity building by fostering learning and leadership skills.

UNESCO is mandated to assist Member States in the design and implementation of national policies on education, culture, science, technology and innovation including biodiversity.

The BIOPALT project: integrated management of ecosystems

More than 30 million people live in the Lake Chad Basin. The site is highly significant in terms of  biodiversity and natural and cultural heritage. The cross-border dimension of the basin also presents opportunities for sub-regional integration. The BIOsphere and Heritage of Lake Chad (BIOPALT) project focuses on poverty reduction and  peace promotion,  and aims to strengthen the capacities of the Lake Chad Basin Commission member states to safeguard  and  manage sustainably the water resources, socio-ecosystems and cultural resources of the region.

Women for bees: Women’s empowerment and biodiversity conservation

Women for Bees is a state-of-the-art female beekeeping entrepreneurship programme launched by UNESCO and Guerlain. Implemented in UNESCO designated biosphere reserves around the world with the support of the French training centre, the Observatoire Français d’Apidologie (OFA), the programme has actor, film maker and humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie for a Godmother, helping promote its twin objectives of women’s empowerment and biodiversity conservation.


Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and capacity development

Capacity development is  present in all areas of IOC’s work, at the global programme level as well as  within  each of its three sub-commissions and  the IOC-INDIO regional committee. In 2015, IOC adopted its Capacity Development Strategy. IOC is the custodian agency for SDG 14A.

In collaboration with the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE), IOC has implemented a network of Regional Training Centres under the OceanTeacher Global Academy (OTGA) project, which has seven such centres around the world (Belgium, Colombia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Mozambique and Senegal). Through its network of centres, OTGA provides a  programme of training courses related to IOC programmes, which contribute to the sustainable management of  oceans and coastal areas worldwide. OTGA has developed an e-Learning  Platform that hosts all training  resources for the training courses and makes them freely available to any interested parties.

Since 2012,  270 scientists from 69 countries have been trained to  manage  marine  biodiversity  data,  publish  data  through the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), and perform scientific data analysis for reporting and assessment. Since 1990, IOC West Pacific Regional Training and  Research  Centres  have  trained  more  than  1,000 people in a variety of topics including: 

  • monitoring the ecological impacts of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems,
  • harmful algal blooms,
  • traditional and molecular taxonomy,
  • reef health monitoring, and
  • seagrass and mangrove ecology and management.

Most courses take place in a face-to-face classroom environment,  however training can also be conducted online using ICTs and the OceanTeacher e-Learning Platform, thereby increasing the number of people reached.

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Governance and connecting the scales

Governance systems in many countries function as indirect drivers of changes to ecosystems and biodiversity. At present, most policies that address biodiversity are fragmented and target specific. Additionally, the current design of governance, institutions and policies rarely takes into account the diverse values of biodiversity. There are also substantial challenges to the design and implementation of effective transboundary and regional initiatives to halt biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, climate change and unsustainable development. Another key challenge to successful policy-making is adequate mobilization of financial resources. Increased funding from both public and private sources, together with innovative financing mechanisms such as ecological fiscal transfers, would help to strengthen institutional capacities.

  • Governance options that harness synergies are the best option for achieving the SDGs.
  • There is a need to develop engagement and actions with diverse stakeholders in governance through regional cooperation and partnerships with the private sector.  
  • Mainstreaming biodiversity into development policies, plans and programmes can improve efforts to achieve both the Aichi Targets and the SDGs.

UNESCO works to engage with new governance schemes at all levels through the LINKS Programme, the MAB Programme, the UNESCO-CBD Joint Programme and integrated management of ecosystems linking local to regional scales.

UNESCO supports the integrated management of ecosystems linking local to regional scales, especially through transboundary biosphere reserves, World Heritage sites and UNESCO Global Geoparks. The governance and management of a biosphere reserve places special emphasis on the crucial role that combined knowledge, learning and capacity building play in creating and sustaining a dynamic and mutually beneficial interactions between the conservation and devel-opment objectives at local and regional scales.

A transboundary biosphere reserve is defined by the following elements: a shared ecosystem; a common culture and shared traditions, exchanges and cooperation at local level; the will to manage jointly the territory along the bio-sphere reserve values and principles; a political commitment resulting in an offi cial agreement between governmental authorities of the coun-tries concerned. The transboundary biosphere reserve establishes a coordinating structure representative of various administrations and scientific boards, the authorities in charge of the different areas included the protected areas, the representatives of local communities, private sector, and NGOs. A permanent secretariat and a budget are devoted to its functioning. Focal points for co-operation are designated in each country participating.

Transboundary conservation and cooperation

The Trifinio Fraternidad Transboundary Biosphere Reserve is located between El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. It is the fi rst transboundary biosphere reserve in Central America and represents a major contribution to the implementation of the Mesoamerican Corridor. It includes key biodiversity areas, such as Montecristo National Park and a variety of forest ecosystems.


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