Strategy born in Seville

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We continue a series of publications on the history of the “Man and the Biosphere” program, we offer you an interview with candidate of biological sciences Olga Kirilyuk.

The first Congress on Biosphere Reserves, held in Minsk in 1984, brought the world the first “Biosphere Action Plan”, which was officially approved by the General Conference of UNESCO and the Governing Body of UNEP. But each new decade brings its own realities – political, economic and technological. A new context is new challenges. Among UNESCO and MAB, the concept of “sustainable development” is increasingly heard – the relationship between the conservation of biological diversity and the development needs of local communities. And now, 8 years after Minsk, in February 1992, at the fourth World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas, which was held in Caracas (Venezuela), the idea of the relationship between conservation and development became a key one.

In the summer of the same year 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity was signed at the Higher Earth Forum in Rio de Janeiro. Its main provisions are the conservation of biodiversity, its rational use, as well as the fair joint realization of the benefits associated with the exploitation of genetic resources. Biosphere reserves fit perfectly into this concept and become the main tool for its implementation.

And in the meantime, the UNESCO Executive Board is creating an Advisory Committee on Biosphere Territories, for which the 1984 Minsk Action Plan was the starting point for creating a completely new document – a universal strategy for biosphere territories on the threshold of the 21st century. Eleven years after Minsk, on March 20–25, 1995, the International Conference on Biosphere Territories opened in Seville, which became historic – it developed the famous Seville Strategy, which incorporates the achievements of the Minsk Congress, and the irreplaceable experience of biosphere reserves, and new revelations of the scientific and environmental community.

The conference was attended by about 400 experts from 102 countries, as well as representatives of 15 international and regional organizations. Russia at these forums was represented by a number of experts, including Valery Neronov and Mikhail Brynsky. The Coordination Council of the Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB), during its 13th session (June 12–16, 1995), fully supported the Seville Strategy.

The Seville strategy is a document that, no doubt, is worth reading to anyone who is interested not only in nature conservation, but in general the future of mankind. According to the Seville Strategy, biosphere territories (biosphere reserves) should fulfill three main complementary functions:

  • conservation function to conserve genetic resources, species, ecosystems and landscapes;
  • the function of promoting sustainable socio-economic development;
  • the function of scientific and technical support to support demonstration projects, environmental education and training, research and monitoring in connection with local, national and global events carried out in order to protect nature and sustainable development.

Each function is described in detail, the criteria for its implementation are highlighted. This document is easy to read, and has some remarkable property — I want to immediately put forward my theses — they are so simple and logical, and it would be so cool if not only biosphere reserves, but the whole globe began to live according to the Seville strategy .

Our colleague Olga Kirilyuk, candidate of biological sciences, and in the recent past, an employee of the Daursky Biosphere Reserve, a person who was lucky enough to represent our reserve system at several international conferences under the “Man and Biosphere” program.

Olga, in what forums did you happen to participate?

Two of them, undoubtedly the main ones, are the world congresses of biosphere reserves in Madrid and Lima. There were several meetings within the framework of the regional East Asian network of biosphere reserves.

I must say that world congresses are the most important event in the life of a family of biosphere reserves, a time for summing up results and determining tasks for the future. And, despite the commonality of form and content, each congress is not like the previous ones. Because it takes place in different countries, and because during the time from one congress to another, much changes in the life of the network itself.

The last, Lima Congress, was the fourth. Not so much, given the age of the Man and the Biosphere program.

Comparing both forums, it can be said that the Lima Congress was more refined in terms of discussion and elaboration of program documents. True, maybe this is a subjective opinion. What is absolutely beyond doubt, is the increased activity of the Russian delegation. In Madrid we were more likely listeners, although in several speeches (including plenary) the experience of our biosphere reserves and the position of Russia were presented. In Lima, almost all participants from Russia spoke at the thematic sections about their experience and actively participated in the work of the congress in various directions. And, most importantly, the work of the delegation in Lima gave an impetus to the more productive participation of our reserves in the life of the global network, especially in the area of cooperation within mountain and sea territories, the MAB youth network and regional networks. It is noteworthy that the composition of our delegation was determined at the previous congress of the All-Russian Conference of Biosphere Reserves, held in Sochi in December 2015, the first such in my memory and of great importance for the Russian biosphere territories. At this conference, for the first time, a detailed analysis of the implementation of the “Man and the Biosphere” program in our country was presented, many positive examples were discussed and problems were clearly described, including the lack of a clear idea of biosphere reserves in national legislation. Unfortunately, the Sochi Conference of Russian Biosphere Reserves is still one of a kind, and the problems identified at it have not been resolved.

Please tell us about the Madrid and Lima action plan

The action plans for biosphere reserves are specific documents for the implementation of the Seville Strategy, containing very specific tasks for a certain period. The Madrid plan was calculated for the period 2008 – 2013, Limsky – for the period 2015 – 2025. Each subsequent document is associated with the previous one and is its logical continuation.

The strategic directions of the plan are determined based on the situation at the present stage. While the Madrid Plan of Action paid more attention to the interpretation of the Seville Strategy and the MAB Program in the context of the real activities of biosphere reserves, Lima action plan is more likely to build an effective network model, including developing cooperation within its framework, ensuring sustainable financing and communication exchange mechanisms.

It is worth noting that the action plan always takes into account the most pressing challenges to humanity: the need to adapt to climate change, the problems of desertification, environmental pollution and so on.

It is important that upon the adoption of the Lima action plan, regular monitoring of its implementation is organized – every two years the biosphere reserves provide a brief but comprehensive report on the implementation of the document.

By the way, I would like to recall that all information on the congress and on the network of biosphere reserves is on the official website of the Man and the Biosphere program.

Does the population support biosphere reserves where the state supports them?

The population will support where it understands why this is necessary. The same applies to the state. It should understand the benefits that the program provides across the country, regions and municipalities. There are many examples in the world. The concept of biosphere reserves has been successfully implemented in both developing and developed countries. For example, Latin America, the same Peru. There are 5 biosphere reserves in this country, each of which is very successful both in terms of biodiversity conservation and in terms of ensuring sustainable development of local communities. At the 2016 Congress in Peru, biosphere reserves represented not only themselves, but also their products – and these are far from being only souvenirs. This, for example, upscale agricultural products – coffee and tea, forest products, clothing and much more. Products produced in biosphere reserves become a real brand of the country. At the Congress in Lima, representatives of local cultures absolutely sincerely said that for them the path of the biosphere reserve is the only one combining the opportunity to preserve national and historical identity and ensure a decent standard of living. And this applies not only to the Indians, but also to the descendants of diverse migrants, among whom are Spaniards, Africans, and many others. Biosphere reserves are highly valued by the state, which understands that they take on part of its functions for the development of territories. And here we can, of course, say that the Seville strategy is quite linked to national interests.

That is, biosphere reserves fit into the model of economic development of the state?

Yes. In many countries. In Europe, for example, this is manifested primarily in the fact that there is interaction at the level of communities, municipal authorities and administrations of biosphere reserves representing state interests. Consolidatedly developed its own special program for the development of the biosphere reserve, taking into account the specifics of the territory, its environmental value. Areas of economy that are incompatible with the objectives of the protected area and vice versa are excluded, those that are consistent with sustainable development and the conservation of the natural value of the reserve are supported. I must say that within the framework of the MAB program, the development and use of technologies aimed at improving the quality of human life without harming the environment are supported. Such developments and business areas receive additional financial support.

Could you give more details on how things are going in Europe?

There are many examples of the state approach to the MAB program in Europe. Some of the leading positions are held by Spain and Germany. There it is truly brought to the state level. Spain has more biosphere reserves than Russia. Although, in fairness, it must be said that it is our two countries – the leaders in Europe and North America in their number (in Russia – 45). In Germany there are only 16 biosphere reserves, but this country largely shapes the policy in the field of implementing the principles of the Seville strategy, organizes and provides many partnership programs for the countries of Europe and Asia, not to mention the implementation of the idea of ​​biosphere reserves within its borders. Regarding the formation of a policy of biosphere reserves, it is worth recalling that the task of restoring the lost is more urgent for Europe – restoring nature in the face of growing urbanization, while for many other regions not so long ago and intensively developed, the task of preventive conservation of nature is more relevant. Hence the focus of the European policy on the implementation of the program towards sustainable development, which has become the main one, which diverged somewhat from the initial ideas of the MAB program.

However, the task of recovering the lost is relevant not only for Europe. Within the framework of the Man and the Biosphere program, restoration of disturbed territories is carried out, for example, in China. The same country can serve as an example of adaptation of the program taking into account national specifics. In China, there are biosphere reserves of different levels: local, regional, and national. Only the most outstanding ones are included in the network of UNESCO biosphere reserves, but all are organized in accordance with the Regulation on Biosphere Reserves, they have the corresponding zoning. There are precedents in China when, in order to protect valuable natural complexes from exhaustion, the authorities resettle entire villages. It is with the aim of preserving biodiversity. The inhabitants of these villages are not only provided with housing in a new place, they are provided with work. Whether such an approach fully complies with the spirit of the Seville strategy is a question, but, as we said above, it must be understood that each country implements the principles of the Seville strategy, taking into account its specificity.

Returning to Europe, what is its specificity?

In Europe, the territories are mainly man-made, and for them it is important not so much conservation as restoration. And you can restore nature only if you agree with the population on how to manage the territory together. And so that with priority given to the conservation and restoration of natural complexes, socio-economic development is not inhibited. Therefore, local committees for managing biosphere reserves work so well there. It is they who develop some kind of general policy, adopt certain norms of the economy, areas of development that allow the principle of harmonious development to be implemented. In Spain, we met with different biosphere reserves. And always the local communities acted as owners. Many reserves have leading industries and a kind of branded product. In some – olive oil, in others – livestock products, in the third – lawns for football fields or golf courses and so on. At the same time, with equal pride, the inhabitants of the reserve speak of their economic achievements, as well as carefully kept nests of birds of prey or places of bird congestion in wintering. In Europe, by the way, the topic of poaching is not very relevant – the people there are still more law-abiding than, for example, in Africa or in Russia.

Sincere admiration for the achievements in the implementation of the MAB program in Europe and in the world, nevertheless does not exclude discussions about the correct choice of priorities and approaches. For example, far from all reserves created at the start of the program now meet the criteria of biosphere reserves. And this is a consequence of a new vision of the goals of the “Man and the Biosphere” program.  Initially, in the understanding of the countries initiating the creation of the MAB program, and they were the United States and the Soviet Union, the network of biosphere reserves was supposed to be a set of protected areas that preserve the virgin corners of nature in various natural zones of the planet, as well as territories that are of great importance for the conservation of rare species . The main objective of the network was to collect objective information about the state of ecosystem standards and the course of natural processes in them for comparison with anthropogenic disturbances. In order to prevent a “transition of the line”, the point of no return. In general, we can say that this was a kind of translation of the Russian classical ideas of conservation to the whole world and, if you like, recognition of the outstanding role of the Soviet conservation system with its unique long-term series of observations received by the reserves. With the development of the program, this idea was transformed. Now reserves, located in the “bear corners”, in isolation from civilization, do not fit into the leading concept. The development of sustainable development models to implement on their territory is still little realistic. But at the same time, such territories remain invaluable in terms of collecting information on natural processes in nature. There are many such biosphere reserves in Russia.

That is, does our country still have a special position on this issue?

According to the principles of the Seville Strategy, the work of the biosphere reserve is based on scientific research, monitoring, and special attention is paid to the problem of adaptation to climate change. In the Rome Action Plan, which preceded the Madrid Plan, what was classically invested in the concept of a biosphere reserve from the very beginning – conservation of biodiversity and monitoring, was the first two points. And the principles of sustainable development follow. But now it is the principles of sustainable development that have become leading.

For us, for Russia, the conservation and monitoring functions in nature reserves have historically been and still remain the main ones. And we participated in discussions more than once, convincing our colleagues that remote protected areas, where there is virtually no local population and no economy, also have the right to a place in the MAB program precisely as reference points, as unique points of monitoring and scientific research. I think this point of view should be defended. Although, a number of countries considered it more appropriate to withdraw such reserves from the global network. For example, in the USA, 29 out of 47 reserves remained in the network of UNESCO biosphere reserves, in Austria – 3 out of 7, in the UK – 6 out of 10, etc.

Will the Seville strategy evolve?

In the world – yes, definitely. But whether it will be in demand and develop with us depends on so many things. Our main problem is that we do not have a national strategy that would go into the development of Seville and other international agreements related to the implementation of the Man and the Biosphere program.

Those who say that until the law on protected areas is changed, territories with international status in accordance with the MAB program, the Convention for the Protection of the World Heritage and the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance are not able to fully realize their potential. So far, we have the 10th article of the federal law on specially protected natural territories, which applies exclusively to biosphere reserves. But in the country there are both biosphere national parks and biosphere reserves, including several protected natural areas of various categories and values. The structure of biosphere reserves established by the regulation on them is not taken into account in the law, hence the problems with the organization of zoning and the consideration of the boundaries of such territories in land management documentation. There is no mention in the federal law of World Heritage sites, of Ramsar lands, of transboundary protected areas established in accordance with interstate agreements.

There is no sufficient legislative base; there are no sufficient grounds for taking such territories into account in the plans for socio-economic development, for allocating appropriate federal funding. But the range of their tasks is much wider than for the managers of the “usual” reserved territory. And the qualification requirements for employees should be different.

And yet, in Russia there are many brilliant examples of successful work on the implementation of the MAB program, despite all the difficulties and problems. It is enough to recall Kenozersky National Park, Katunsky and Altai reserves, and several others. This is already a classic. But problem areas remain significantly more than successful ones. Practice shows that it is impossible to do without state support, the formation of a national strategy and effective mechanisms for its implementation. And this is clear to all participants in the process.

The problems listed above hinder the full participation of our biosphere reserves in the work of the international network, many do not even know about all the possibilities. For example, in the framework of the regional MAB networks (there are five of them, Russia participates in two: the European-North American and East Asian), there are many partnership programs. Moreover, in a variety of areas: in the field of youth policy, alternative energy, waste management, improving the efficiency of agriculture, organizing research and monitoring, and many others. Interesting work is being done by “ecosystem” networks (there are 8 of them). Russia is interested in at least 4 of them: mountainous areas, marine biosphere reserves, reserves of arid areas and wetlands. Communication within such networks provides a lot to solve common problems.

Participation in the MAB program creates really great opportunities. When the problems of desert territories were discussed in Lima, one of the biosphere reserves of the Arabian Peninsula presented its system of receiving water from the air in the conditions of the Arabian desert to ensure a decent life for nomads. For a day, at their 8 percent atmospheric humidity, they are able to condense water in an amount sufficient to ensure the normal life of a large Bedouin family. And this is precisely thanks to the “Man and the Biosphere” program, because to solve this problem, with the support of the program, a targeted scientific and technical search was organized.

But the state also needs not only to believe, but also to learn, to take some first steps …

It was a very good undertaking in the Trans-Baikal Territory, supported by one of the governors, but, with his departure, never received a continuation. This is a strategic environmental assessment of the medium-term program of socio-economic development of the region. Its purpose is to analyze the document from the point of view of ensuring environmental safety and sustainable development goals, to take into account and calculate various development options. The project was initiated by the World Wide Fund for Nature of Russia, but was carried out mainly with the money of the region. The initiative is fully consistent with the concept of the MAB program, and if the project was brought to its logical conclusion, it could suggest new growth points for such a problematic, but very interesting and important country to preserve the nature of the region, which has biosphere reserves, Ramsar site, and the World natural heritage, and cross-border reserves. Unfortunately, the project stopped halfway, and the prospects for its continuation are very unclear.

In Lima, at the opening of the Congress of Biosphere Reserves, Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO Deputy Director-General for Natural Sciences, said very correctly. In fact, the MAB program is the path that will ensure the survival of mankind. We need to implement this plan for many well-known reasons. The main one is that we do not have a spare planet.

Thank you so much!