Sc-17/conf. 228C-final report

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Paris, 29 March 2017

Original: English


Meeting of the Bureau of the International Co-ordinating Council (ICC)

of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme

UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, Room VIII (Fontenoy Building)

27-29 March 2017


The meeting of the Bureau of the MAB International Coordinating Council (ICC) was held from 27 to 29 March 2017 at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris. The meeting was chaired by Mr Didier Babin (France) and was attended by the Vice-Chairs: Ms Suk-Kyung Shim (Republic of Korea), Ms Houria Khelifi (Algeria), Mr Adepoju Olatunde Adeshola (Nigeria), Mr Valery Neronov (Russian Federation) and Mr Pedro Gamboa Moquillaza (Peru) who is also the rapporteur. Some observers from the Member States attended the opening and first part of the Bureau meeting.

The full list of participants and observers is given in Annex 1.

Item 1 of the Agenda: Opening of the Meeting

1. On behalf of the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Han Qunli, the Secretary of the MAB-ICC and Director of the Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences (SC/EES), welcomed the members of the Bureau and Observer Delegates present at the meeting.

2. The Secretary sincerely thanked to the Bureau and Secretariat for their work on documents and the overall preparation of this meeting which has very important and heavy agenda. He further acknowledged the highly committed work of the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserve (IACBR). The Secretary also informed the Bureau that the recruitment procedure for the Director of the Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences and the Secretary of the MAB Programme shall start again.

Item 2 of the Agenda: Opening Remarks by the Chair of the MAB Bureau

3. In his opening remarks, Mr Didier Babin, Chair of the MAB International Coordinating Council (ICC) and of the MAB Bureau, thanked for all the work that has been done for the preparation of this Bureau meeting. He highlighted that this meeting is highly important as it will address several key issues in particular the Exit Strategy leading to improve the overall work of the MAB Programme. He reiterated that the Exit strategy has to be seen as a quality approach to improve the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR). He also mentioned proposals to improve MAB Awards Scheme – MAB Young Scientists Award (YSA) and Michelle Batisse Award. The Chair however regretted that the operational guidelines nor the road map for the implementation of the LAP were not submitted by the Secretariat to the Bureau of the LAP though these documents had been requested by the previous Bureau meeting. In its response, concerning the road map, the Secretariat, referring to the last Bureau meeting report, had seen its task as that to set-up a framework for the draft road map. Such document was presented to the Bureau accordingly as was described in the relevant item of this report. Regarding the progress on the Operational Guidelines, the Secretariat informed the Bureau that the status would be reported later in the Secretary report but noted the heavy workload since last Bureau including the preparation of 39C/5.

4. He expressed particular thanks and gratitude to the members of the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves (IACBR) for their hard and effective work in the examination of all the dossiers during its meeting in January 2017. He also pointed out the work made by the Secretariat to make these documents available and congratulated to all involved. The Chair mentioned that he partially participated in the meeting of the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves having taken an advantage of his mission to Paris on another occasion and thus, he could meet and thank personally the members of this Committee.

5. Mr Babin underlined the importance that Bureau members should not intervene for cases of their countries concerned during the session. He himself would leave the meeting room in the event the dossiers of France or Canada would be discussed by the Bureau, in order to avoid any conflict of interest. He pointed out that work of IACBR experts should be respected and should serve as a basis for the Bureau members to transmit the proposed recommendations to the Council.

Item 3 of the Agenda: Adoption of the Agenda

6. The Chair invited the Bureau Members to consider the meeting’s provisional agenda, which was approved without amendments. The approved agenda is in Annex 2 to this report.

Item 4 of the Agenda: Reports by the Vice-Chairs of the MAB Bureau

7. Ms Suk-Kyung Shim (Republic of Korea) representing the Group IV reported on the 4 sub-regional Biosphere Reserve networks of the Asia and the Pacific Region: EABRN (East Asian BR Network), SeaBRnet (Southeast Asian BR network), SACAM (South and Central Asia MAB) and PacMAB (Pacific BR) networks and key meetings and/or other interventions having been held or planned for implementation in 2017 since the last Bureau meeting. The implementation of the LAP at the national and site levels was one of key agenda in most of activities.

8. At sub-regional level, following meetings were listed: the 8th SACAM network meeting (October 2016 in Almaty, Kazakhstan) discussed the implementation of the Lima Action Plan (LAP) and means for closer cooperation within the MAB Community in the sub-region; the 15th EABRN meeting to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan in early August 2017 is to exchange experience and discuss on the implementation of the MAB Strategy and LAP and joint research and management activities; the EABRN has been providing training courses for biosphere reserve (BR) managers and 7th training course will be organized in Republic of Korea and China with subjects relevant to implementation of the LAP (July this year).

9. At national level: several member states organize regular meetings among BR managers. This year Chinese BR Network discussed with more than 150 managers and staff of the network the role of the BRs in contribution of MAB Strategy and LAP. The Republic of Korea organized an annual workshop (August 2016 in Jeju Island BR) and shared the results of the 4th World Congress of BRs including the LAP. A similar national workshop for Indian BR stakeholders was held in Pachmarhi BR in India and focused on the development and implementation of a National Action Plan for Indian BRs in line with the LAP. The LAP document was translated into national languages such as Chinese, Korean and Mongolian. Lastly, the national MAB award schemes, corresponding to the MAB Young Scientists Awards and the Michel Batisse Award for BRs at international level, were launched in China. MAB China awarded the first three national MAB Young Scientists Awards and a national award for excellent service by BR managers at the Chinese BR Network meetings in 2016. The MAB Bureau may encourage other member countries to do so as well.

10. Ms Houria Khelifi from Algeria representing Group V (b) thanked the Secretariat and interpreters for preparing the documents and translations. She briefed the Bureau that the MAB National Committees supported the BRs to become in line with the ICC recommendations on Periodic Reviews follow-up. She mentioned examples of Tunisia and Morocco, and referred to the new nomination of Sudan. She further reported on the major events since September 2016. At the Tanger meeting (18-20 October 2016), the representatives of BRs and focal points from 18 African and Arabic countries discussed both International Hydrological Programme (IHP) and MAB. She mentioned a call of Tangier at the COP22 in November 2016 to use BRs as observatories and laboratories for sustainable development in the Arabic and African region. Furthermore, she briefed about a preparation of the ArabMAB meeting from 22-25 May 2017 in Algeria which will include a regional meeting on 22-23 May, thematic workshop on governance, financial management and green economy on 24 May and an excursion to Algerian BR on 25May 2016.

11. Mr Adepoju Olatunde Adeshola from Nigeria who represents Group V (a) thanked the Chair of MAB Bureau for his leadership. He also commended the MAB Secretariat for the work  and support to the Bureau. He reported that MAB National Committee of Ghana, with the support of the Ministry of Environment, Science technology and Innovation, traditional authority and other stakeholders organized the inauguration of Lake Bosomtwe, as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve on September 27, 2016. He informed that a meeting was held in Cameroon in October 2016 within the process of nominating a transboundary biosphere reserve undertaken between Cameroon and Nigeria. He also mentioned that Cameroon MAB national committee has been officially established in February 2017 by a bill of the Prime Minister. M. Adepoju informed that two UNESCO Assistant Director Generals, ADG/AFR and ADG/SC, visited Nigeria in February 2017. A member of MAB Secretariat was part of the UNESCO Nigeria mission and take this advantage to visit the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), the institutional focal point for AfriMAB and Omo Biosphere reserve in Ogun State, which is one of the implementation  site of the UNESCO/KOICA Green economy project. During the meeting with Nigeria MAB national committee bureau, It was agreed that the next AfriMAB meeting will be held in Ibadan from 11 to 15 September 2017. In Abuja, Nigeria MAB national committee and MAB Secretariat and UNESCO Abuja office visited ECOWAS where they met with the Director of Environment and the commissioner for Environment and Agriculture to seek their support to AfriMAB.    

12. Mr Pedro Gamboa Moquillaza from Peru representing the Group III took the floor and informed the participants about activities in the Latin America and the Caribbean region since the last Bureau meeting. Mr Gamboa explained that the IberoMAB Network, which comprises 23 participating countries and 83 biosphere reserves, has been actively working to adapt the Lima Action Plan 2016-2025 for the IberoMAB region. The fourth and final draft is currently under review and approval is expected during the next IberoMAB meeting in Santa Marta, Colombia, in 2018.

13. Mr Gamboa also informed the participants that IberoMAB, in collaboration with the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID) and the Spanish Autonomous Authority for National Parks (OAPN), organized a seminar on ‘Funding Sources for the IberoMaB Network’, which was held in Antigua, Guatemala (7–11 November 2016). Forty-two participants from 20 countries took part in this seminar, which enabled participants to identify potential donors, sources and funding lines, as well as partners for project development in biosphere reserves. The key themes identified during the seminar for the design and development of projects were the mitigation and adaptation to climate change, sustainable economies and institutional and community development.

14. Mr Gamboa stated that Ecuador and Peru have presented a joint proposal for the creation of the Forest of Peace Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, the first transboundary biosphere reserve in South America. The creation of this proposal was supported by the project ‘Biosphere Reserves as a Tool for Coastal and Island Management in the South-East Pacific Region’ (BRESEP), which is coordinated by the MAB Programme and supported by the Flemish Government of Belgium. Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru are all active participants in this project.

15. Finally Mr Gamboa informed the participants that a meeting on ‘Quality label for IberoMAB Biosphere Reserves’ will be held in Colombia in November 2017.

16. Mr Valery Neronov (Russian Federation) representing the group II expressed his gratitude to the IACBR members for their enormous work and thanked also to the MAB Secretariat. He pointed out several key events to be held in Russia. Russia will celebrate this year 100 years of protected area system which started by the establishment of Barguzinskiy Zapovednik (being BR since 1996). In this regard, he mentioned that Russian Geographical Society prepared the special booklet on this occasion highlighting the Barguzinskiy BR and distributed it to the Bureau and Secretariat.

17. He recalled the MAB Secretariat technical assistance in 2016 to 15 BRs from Russia which should respond to the Exit Strategy process. He expressed his hope that it has helped and all these cases will be satisfactory sort out at the ICC meeting in June this year. He mentioned that three new single sites and one transboundary site – the first Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (TBR) in Russia –were proposed for nominations. He pointed out that in the Altay Mountains region 2 BRs currently exist, 1 TBR is under nomination, 1 UNESCO Geopark is established and 1 UNESCO Word Heritage Site is listed. Therefore, Russian authorities intend to use this case as a model of noosphere.

18. In follow-up on a presentation at the Lima Congress he briefed the Bureau that the booklet on BRs within the Volga River basin has been published also in Russian and mentioned that 2 new sites in this basin intend to prepare nominations. The case of Volga basin on the role of BRs within large river basins will be shared during EUROMAB 2017 and cooperation is also planned with Central Asia countries. He briefed that the seminar on Volga BRs being held annually in May in Nizhnyi Novgorod will be postponed to October 2017 in order to be held in Sochi within the conference devoted to 100 years anniversary of protected areas system in Russia.

19. Mr Didier Babin (France) representing the Group I: In addition to his opening remarks, the Chair reported about EuroMAB 2017 which will be held from 4 to 7 April 2017 in Sarlat, Bassin de la Dordogne BR, France, with over 300 participants. He pointed out that EuroMAB 2017 seeks to identify which new types of partnerships are necessary for an ecological transition, how to set them up, and how to durably maintain and promote them. The aim is to involve or enhance the involvement of other socio-economic, scientific and university actors, as well as artists and communication specialists. He further mentioned that the meeting also focuses on the links built up by individuals with nature and with their territory and seeks to reinforce these links to attain the sustainable development goals. The event will facilitate setting up collective approaches and collaborative projects by organizing conferences and participative workshops.

Item 5 of the Agenda: Report of the Secretary of the MAB Programme

20. The Secretary of the MAB Programme, Mr Han Qunli, introduced his report (Annex 3) with an update on MAB Programme development since the last Bureau meeting in September 2016, benefiting from input received from both MAB Secretariat Team and colleagues from UNESCO Field Offices. His report particularly focused on follow up actions having been taken since the last MAB Bureau meeting. The report is accompanied by the detailed PowerPoint (ppt) presentation which is attached to the report as the Annex 5.

21. The report addressed the following main points:

  • Preparation of UNESCO 39C/5 workplan (2018-2021) and the alignment of MAB programme within UNESCO overall workplan and the related reporting to the current workplan 38C/5 (2014-2017):

    • in this part, the Secretary pointed out that if the proposed workplan approved by 39th General Conference (GC), MAB and WNBR would have one separate Expected Result (ER) and one joint ER with the International Geoscience and Geoparks Programme (IGGP) on UNESCO sites for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);

    • budget situation will remain similar to 38C/5 and be very tight.

  • Endorsement of the Lima Action Plan at the 200th session of the Executive Board (EXB) and follow up required: in addition to the endorsement information, the Secretary provided further details on follow-up which are summarized in the PowerPoint presentation.

  • Convening of the 23rdsession of the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves and the summary of its main outcome:

  • additionally to the summary of the recommendations on the new nominations and periodic review reports, the Secretary highlighted an enormous work having been done by IACBR for Exit Strategy related reports and pointed out that 270 BRs in 75 countries were in Exit Strategy in 2013 and by today 105 sites in 38 countries remain in question;

  • the Secretary further noted that it is time to prepare scenarios for the ICC session in June: in addition to withdrawals, a ‘sub-list’ color scheme could be considered for the sites not yet meeting the criteria but committed to improve; such a time-bond scheme and long term mechanism could complement the overall management of WNBR and sound wrapping up of the Exit Strategy.

  • Preparation of a Road Map for Lima Action Plan implementation: following the request of the Bureau at its last meeting, an outline roadmap has been drafted for this Bureau (Document 6) and may be taken into account when MAB’s on-line reporting systems is developed in 2017.

  • Relationship with the Convention on Biological diversity (CBD), the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and other UN partners: the Secretary pointed out several important examples which are listed in details in the PowerPoint presentation.

  • Governance related issues of the MAB Programme:

    • the Secretary briefed about the first Working group (WG) meeting on governance (28 February 2017) where the Secretariat clarified the roles of Bureau in governance which is fully in line with the established roles and procedures for MAB ICC;

    • he also pointed out that further communication of the decision making process may be needed and in this regard, and a FAQ is under preparation.

  • Progress on the preparation of the MAB Communication Strategy: the Secretary referred to the Kick off meeting for the MAB global communication strategy (27 January 2017).

  • Update on the development of Biosphere Reserve’s Operational Guidelines for the WNBR (OP-WNBR):

    • in follow-up of the last Bureau meeting, the item on Operational Guidelines preparation was introduced at the IACBR meeting and the IACBR members confirmed following priority topics: zonation, basic information for countries interested to join WNBR, multiple designation sites, for the prototype of the OP-WNBR;

    • the Secretariat suggested that the prototype first address  ZONATION which is the most commonly encountered challenge in WNBR. 

  • New achievements and activities of MAB/WNBR in different regions: this point included several best practices and important activities that are summarized in the ppt presentation.

  • MAB Research: the Secretary briefed about key activities and initiatives related to the research area within the MAB Programme; more details are provided in the ppt presentation.

  • MAB Youth Forum 2017: the 1st MAB Youth Forum will be held on 18-22 September 2017 in the Po Delta Biosphere Reserve, Italy and so far, a significant extra-budgetary funding has been secured by the UNESCO Office in Venice which leads this Forum preparation.

  • Fundraising and extra-budgetary project development for MAB and WNBR: this point was accompanied by the information on the important event - forum dedicated for companies and experts committed to improving the planet through innovation, sustainability and corporate social responsibility which took place in Barcelona, Spain on 27 February 2017.

22. The Secretary’s presentation was followed by a discussion of the Bureau Members – in particular, on issues related the alignment of MAB programme within UNESCO overall workplan 39 C/5, Lima Action Plan implementation, relationship with the Convention on Biological Diversity, Governance and Operational Guidelines for the WNBR.

23. The interrelations between MAB programme (BRs) and IGGP (Global Geoparks) were discussed by all the Bureau members at different extents. The Bureau Members mentioned that at the national level there are still confusions between BRs and Geoparks and therefore a guidance how to harmonize a cooperation is needed in this regard. In this connection, the Secretary briefed about the recent IUCN study in partnership with UNESCO and the publication which demonstrates synergies, advantages and challenges, and highlighted that cooperation should be definitely sought but biosphere reserves should not lose their characteristics and comparative advantages. He further reminded that next C/5 includes one Expected Result (ER) on UNESCO designated sites for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and this is a framework for enhanced cooperation.

24. The Chair highlighted that in the 39 C/5 the links between MAB and Geoparks are established, quite strong links already exist with the World Heritage Convention(s) and asked the Secretary about a potential establishment of a network of UNESCO sites to implement SDGs. If this is the case, it should be seen cautiously as the MAB has its long-term history and vision which may differ from Geoparks although clear synergies exist. However, the ICC could request to enhance cooperation with Geoparks to implement SDGs. It has been further noted the need to make sure that MAB and its WNBRs and recently approved LAP are internationally recognized instruments to promote SDGs. In follow-up of the Chair’s concern regarding budgetary issues of the joint ER within 39 C/5, the Secretary responded that currently, there is no direct budget implication to the MAB Programme envisaged.

25. The Chair pointed out the need to enhance links between CBD Secretariat and MAB Secretariat and recalled the last COP meeting in Cancun. In this regard, he suggested that MAB Secretariat is more proactive, take the lead to represent UNESCO at key CBD events and be a part of deliberation processes with concrete proposals (as being done by other United Nations organizations like FAO, UNEP, UNDP,etc., and/or other entities such as IPBES, NGOs, etc.) in order to play a more important role in the implementation of the CBD and the SDGs.

26. The Secretary fully agreed and pointed out that these issues should be further discussed with the Bureau and the Council how to position the MAB in the CBD considering that ICC, LAP and MAB Programme with its WNBR are important instruments to CBD. He further mentioned that the Secretariat held a lot of internal discussions on an online reporting system establishment and the initial scheme for online reporting– first on the LAP implementation - will be ready before the next ICC session.

27. With regard to the Governance issue, the Chair met with the Chair of WG on governance to make all the issues on MAB governance clear in order to avoid that decisions will be taken not fully considering efficient mechanisms of MAB governance being currently in place. In follow-up of this important note, the Secretary briefed that the MAB Secretariat will draft FAQ in a very simple way on the MAB decision making and will share it with the Bureau for its approval .

28. Concerning the Operational Guidelines, the Chair stressed that it is crucial to bring BRs and MAB Committees to work together and use their best practices and lessons learnt in this regard, and to facilitate to be fully operational. The Secretary welcomed the Chair’s advice and reiterated the offer of France to support Operational Guidelines development.

Item 6 of the Agenda: Examination of Proposals for New Biosphere Reserves and Extensions/ Modifications/ Renaming to Biosphere Reserves that are Part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR)

29. The MAB Secretariat informed that the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves, at its meeting on 23-26 January 2017 in Paris, had examined 28 proposals for new biosphere reserves, including four (4) transboundary sites and one (1) re-submission of proposals, and 12 requests for expansion and/or renaming of already existing biosphere reserve. It further briefed the Bureau that Advisory Committee took note that the Secretariat received three letters from three US sites (Desert BR, California Coast Range biosphere reserve and Carolinian-south Atlantic BR) for voluntarily withdrawal. It also took note that two of these sites (California Coast Range and Carolinian-south Atlantic BR) are aiming to submit renewed nomination forms at the next 30 September 2017 deadline.

30. The MAB Secretariat reported that the Advisory committee recommended:

  • Fifteen (15) new proposals to be approved including 3 transboundary

  • Eight (8) new proposals to be approved pending reception of additional information

  • Nine (9) extensions of existing biosphere reserves to be approved

  • Three (3) extensions of existing biosphere reserves to be approved pending

  • One (1) renaming of existing biosphere reserve to be approved pending.

31. The Chair proposed to the Bureau that the recommendations of the Advisory Committee be forwarded to the MAB Council without any change. With regard to the deadline for sending additional information, the MAB Bureau requested the Secretariat to send letters to the concerned countries recalling them that if the information is received after 15 May 2017, the decision will be made after the 29th session of the MAB ICC. The Bureau will request approval from the MAB Council to make the decision on their behalf in such cases if the Council wishes so.

32. The representative of the Secretariat announced that, since the Advisory committee meeting, the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources of the Dominican Republic has sent the missing letter of support for the La Selle-Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (Dominican Republic / Haïti).

Item 7 of the Agenda: Examination of Periodic Review Reports and Follow-Up Information Received since the Last MAB International Coordinating Council (MAB ICC) Meeting

33. The Secretariat briefed the Bureau that 184 reports from 54 countries, including 134 reports from 43 countries as implementation of the exit strategy were received. These periodic review reports and follow-up to the previous MAB Council recommendations were reviewed by the Members of the Advisory Committee during its meeting in January 2017.

34. The Chair acknowledged with satisfaction the high level of replies and efforts made by certain countries to fulfill the criteria. He also indicated that members of the Bureau should leave the room when the discussion is to be held on specific cases located in their countries. 

35. The discussion started on a general level on how to deal with the different situations in a global way and in line with the exit strategy. Some members of the Bureau referred to the need for technical assistance in certain regions, such as Africa and Latin America and indicated that despite good will, the means were missing. Other issues mentioned concerned communication as some of the letters sent by the Secretariat were not received. One of the issues was how to mobilize these countries, including visits of the members of the Bureau to the sites.

36. Some clarifications were provided by the Secretariat as regards the deadline of some of the recommendations for certain sites. Thus, it was agreed to modify some of the recommendations to indicate clearly the deadline for submission of additional information when the date was missing or to align the deadline with the Exit strategy specific timeline (i.e. 15 of May 2017), and to inform the countries accordingly.

37. The Bureau has finally decided to endorse all the recommendations made by the Advisory Committee with the necessary changes of the dates to be coherent. At its next meeting prior to the Council, the Bureau will examine the additional information received as of 15 May, propose changes and modify the recommendations as necessary, and submit them to the Council.

38. The Bureau discussed proposals to improve the credibility and quality of the WNBR through the periodic review process and follow-up of information with regard to the outcomes of the Exit strategy. These proposals are included in the Item 8.

Item 8 of the Agenda: Update on Status of Implementation of the Exit Strategy

39. The Secretariat introduced the item on the update on the status of the implementation of the Exit Strategy, adopted by the MAB Council in 2013. The purpose of the Exit strategy is to improve the credibility and the quality of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and to help Member States to set the required standards for their biosphere reserve to become fully functional and to comply with the criteria according to the Statutory Framework for Biosphere Reserves and the Pamplona recommendations for transboundary sites. The Exit strategy concerned 270 sites in 75 countries (excluding sites designated in 2003), including four (4) transboundary sites. Five (5) withdrawals of sites by two countries (UK and Austria) took place since the adoption of the exit strategy.

40. The Secretariat introduced the item and color table with the color code, representing several types of situation.

41. The Chair thanked and congratulated the Secretariat for the work and data presented and accomplished over the last years. He also acknowledged contributions such as from Germany on the analyses of the Exit strategy.

42. He also highlighted the already positive effects of the implementation of the Exit strategy at many relevant sites now meeting the criteria, the high level of responses and the efforts made by the countries to meet the criteria and address the recommendations.  

43. The Chair indicated that the mandate of the Bureau was to present the results of the implementation of the Exit strategy to the MAB Council at its next session in June so it can take its decision, by clearly indicating on one hand the sites that meet the criteria and on the other hand, those ones which do not meet the criteria and which, according to the Exit strategy, should be no longer considered as being part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. He also indicated that the Bureau should suggest to the MAB Council how to support the countries facing issues and build on the Exit strategy to continue the process for the credibility and improvement of the WNBR.

44. Further to the Secretariat introduction of the document and the initiative comment from the Chair, the MAB Secretary requested floor and provided his comments and suggestions as regarding this item.

He briefly recalled the effort since 2013 when the Exit Strategy was launched, and a tremendous amount of work that has been accomplished by the team of the Secretariat and IACBR members, under the close guidance of MAB Council and its Bureau. The Exit Strategy implementation, by all accounts, has generated positive changes for a large number of BRs in many Member States. As the dates approaching for wrapping up the Exit Strategy implementation, it is time to look on the other aspects of the implementation, particularly in terms of possible decisions of removal or self-withdrawal by countries of BRs from the Network and to ensure this final stage of effort also be positive for the World Network and the participating Member States. To facilitate the discussion of the Bureau, the Secretary made following points for the attention and consideration of the Bureau:

  1. As how to wrap up the implementation of the Exit Strategy at the MAB ICC

  • MAB ICC decisions and recommendations should be prepared in such ways to ensure that they are:

    • Open, fair, transparent and accountable;

    • Simple, clear and easy to be taken by MAB ICC;

    • Having taken into account the long-term consequences and political impact of the possible decisions and recommendations.

  • The great progress and improvement achieved since 2013 in the quality and functionality of Biosphere Reserves should be fully recognized and consolidated.

  • The successful stories in the implementation of the Exit Strategy should be communicated to Member States.

  • Remove BRs that are truly (and with evidence) of having not participated over time and no longer participating in the World Network.

  • Using the opportunity of completion of the Exit Strategy to create a complementary mechanism in MAB for long-term improvement of WNBR, for the many pending or inconclusive cases in the Exit Strategy due to various reasons and situations, and with anticipation of new cases will also occur in future:

    • A possible three-color code is therefore proposed for WNBR

      • BR in Full Function (Green)

      • BR under Challenge (Yellow)

      • BR at Risk (Red).

    • All Exit Strategy sites presently under white, red, pink color go to Red category of BR at Risk.

    • All Exit Strategy sites presently under blue and yellow go to Yellow category BR under Challenge

    • All others go to Green category BR in Full Function.

2) Delisting a BR from WNBR

It is foreseen that the MAB ICC would take decisions to delist sites from the World Network, using the Article 9 item 5 and 6, for the Exit Strategy or encourage countries to self-withdraw the sites.

It is suggested that phrase of the possible MAB ICC recommendations could be for either ‘delisting’ or ‘no longer be referred as a biosphere reserve which is part of the Network’.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that such delisting decision is built on the basis of the application of the Article 9 item 5 for requesting firstly the Member States to take measures to improve, and the item 6 that the BR concerned is still (a) not meeting criteria of Article 4 and (b) with a reasonable period. Both conditions have to be met before delisting takes place.

There are cases that IACBR or Bureau has not received Periodic Report or follow up response but at site level the BRs are functioning. Reference was made to two BRs in Cuba that have been very active and has been under GEF project until recently. It would be mistake, both politically and technically, to delist such sites, despite the fact of lack of reporting.

3) As regarding when BR delisting can be applied

The 3rd paragraph of the Statutory Framework of WNBR says: ‘This Statutory Framework is intended to contribute to widespread recognition of biosphere reserves and to encourage and promote good working examples. The delisting procedure foreseen should be considered as exception to this basically positive approach, and should be applied only after careful examination, paying due respect to cultural and socio-economic situation of the country, and after consultation with the government concerned’.

The questions that the Bureau may wish to consider include (and to them the Secretary does not have clear answer):

  • If there is still a large number of BRs that are not meeting criteria for June MAB ICC, can the delisting be considered as exception? As a reference, in WH since 1972, only two sites were delisted. All the other sites having serious problems are under the List of WH in Danger.

  • Have the Exit Strategy process so far paid due respect to cultural and socio-economic situation of the country? If the Bureau is not sure about this due to time limit to review the dossiers, and given that ICC will not be able to open all individual dossiers, how to ensure that this requirement has been fully met?

  • Sending notification letters on Exit Strategy and reminders on Periodic Report is the official means of communication. The Secretariat has been working hard on this and fully in line with the requirement of the Exit Strategy. However, could these notification or reminder letters be considered sufficient as ‘consultation with the government concerned’?

4) About the wording on ‘Withdraw’ or ‘withdrawal’ in the possible ICC decisions on this issue

The definition of withdraw must be very clear. As a verb, it means (transitive):

  • To remove from consideration: withdrew his name from the list of nominees

(or intransitive)

  • To remove oneself from participation

  • To recall a motion under parliamentary procedure

The Secretary is therefore in the opinion that MAB ICC cannot decide to withdraw BR directly, nor to decide for the Member States to withdraw their BRs. Article 9 item 8 gives clear definition on how a country can remove its BR from WNBR at its own decision, which is the withdrawal in practice (e.g. Austria and UK, and USA).

Obviously, MAB ICC can recommend to MS to consider withdraw their BRs. However, since this act of withdraw is completely up to the decision of the country concerned, there is a real possibility that MS do not follow the ICC recommendation to withdraw. The Secretary is aware of at least one country that will not do so. If this would happen (likely), a corresponding decision of MAB ICC must be made and follow. This would imply require additional procedure in decision making.

45. After the observations made by the Secretary, the Chair fully agreed that the decisions should be fair, open and transparent. He questioned the issues raised by the Secretary as regards the mandate of the Council concerning the withdrawal of sites and asked for legal clarification on this aspect. He also discussed the political implications raised by the Secretary and indicated that the Bureau needs to be prepared and ready for when the MAB Council meets, to present to the Council the state of the art (which sites are meeting the criteria, which sites are not meeting the criteria). This includes communicating positively on the Exit strategy that has achieved already lots of positive outcomes and results (including highlight and acknowledge progress made by the countries) and to inform the concerned countries on the consequences for their sites of not meeting the criteria (i.e. possibility that the site is not considered as belonging anymore to the WNBR). He also indicated that the Bureau should propose a way to the MAB Council to address the sites, which are still not meeting the criteria at the end of the implementation of the Exit strategy, including sites, which are in conflict areas. He also acknowledged the exceptional work of the Advisory Committee and the need to implement fully this Exit strategy until its final stage in order to reinforce the credibility of the MAB programme and its WNBR.

46. The Bureau indicated that it was important to implement this strategy and pursue it as a quality assurance process (improvement and quality control). Discussion was held on the need and opportunity to send a letter to concerned countries, specifically, to countries that are not meeting the criteria, to inform them that the Council will examine the recommendations at its next meeting in June 2017 and to remind them about the possibility of withdrawing their site as per Article 9 criterion 8 and that the Council may decide that the site is no longer to be referred to as a biosphere reserve which is part of the Network (Article 9 criterion 6).

47. It was also highlighted how communication with countries is crucial as some MAB National Committees and biosphere reserves clearly had difficulties to be in contact with the Secretariat and/or UNESCO Field Offices over the last years.

48. The Bureau asked the Secretariat to prepare for the MAB Council data and graphics such as the ones presented to highlight the positive effects and results, and possibly to present these by regions. The Chair also asked that the data be presented at the deadline of the Exit strategy of December 2015 and as of May 2017 (deadline set-up by the Advisory Committee to receive the additional information that could be considered by the Council in June 2017), so as to reflect the 1,5 year extra time for the improvement that countries benefited from.  

49. He also indicated that if all sites belonging to the WNBR were meeting the criteria, this would clearly enhance the whole network. It was mentioned that particular attention should be paid to those sites that are in conflict zones.

50. It requested the Secretariat to compile this data so the MAB Council can take its decision in June 2017, as regards countries and sites requesting time extension, not meeting the criteria, not responding, as well as the specific case of sites in conflict zones so the MAB Council can decide on how to proceed further.

51. The Bureau requested that the Secretariat sends a letter to concerned countries, with copy to the Vice-Chair of the Bureau concerned, recalling the final recommendation of the Advisory Committee for the sites not meeting the criteria and to remind the Member State of the Exit strategy process, including the possibility of self withdrawal and to send these letters before mid-April. It was further decided that members of the Bureau would directly contact countries who did not send any reply to make sure they are aware of the Council decision. The Secretariat will also contact the permanent delegations of the concerned countries in this regard.

52. The Bureau looked at the summary table of recommendations region by region, for all categories of sites that do not fulfil the criteria, in order to propose options to the MAB Council to aid its decision-making.

53. As regards Africa, the Bureau took note that there is sometimes a communication gap between sites and MAB National Committee and that sometimes the letters can be misaddressed, not received and/or put in file without reaching its recipient. Maybe some of the BR concerned are meeting the criteria but since there is a communication issue at the national level, the information is not provided.

54. The Bureau suggested to the MAB Council to consider separately the biosphere reserves under conflicts (2 countries, 3 sites) and further suggested that these sites remain in the WNBR as long as these sites are located in conflicts zones. It further proposed that the site should not be obliged to send a report. In the given circumstances the site will be therefore excluded from the Exit strategy.

55. Concerning TBRs, due to the more complex work to fulfill both the criteria of Seville and Pamplona, the Bureau suggests giving the countries an extended deadline for submitting missing national reports by 30 September 2017, so that the Council can make its decision in its session in 2018.

56. In its discussion, the Bureau acknowledged that for some sites, the withdrawal from the WNBR could be perceived as dramatic and could have counterproductive consequences, and for other sites it could catalyze positive actions in order to meet the criteria. As a result, the proposal that certain areas will then no longer be referred as a biosphere reserve belonging to the WNBR with the given effective date would provide a strong incentive and an opportunity to the sites concerned to submit a new biosphere reserve proposal which could support their quality improvement and the WNBR accordingly. It was also discussed the idea that for the sites not meeting the criteria, and designated prior to the adoption of the Statutory Framework, the Bureau could recommend to the Council to request these sites to submit a new biosphere reserve proposal within two years.

57. Finally, as regards the sites not meeting the criteria, the Bureau suggested that the MAB Council consider the following decision:

  • If the site does not meet criteria by 15 May 2017, it will no longer be referred to as a biosphere reserve as a part of the World Network with the effective date of the ICC Session in 2019, and the Council will invite the Member State to submit a new biosphere reserve nomination form in conformity with the Statutory Framework for WNBR at its earliest convenience and before the 30 September 2018 latest, to avoid its removal from the World Network by the effective date.

  • Sites for which the Council made a specific recommendation with a clear deadline after 15 May 2017 are not concerned by this decision as long as they provide the information requested in the deadline decided by the Council,
    and such information is sufficient for the Advisory Committee to decide that the site meets the criteria.

58. The Bureau also considered that the lessons learned from the Exit strategy suggest that more thoughts should be given to improving the long-term quality of the Network. It made the following proposals to the Council for a quality process for the periodic review:

  1. to establish a deadline for submission of the periodic review report, with a maximum of one year extension to submit the periodic review report once the statutory report request has been sent by the secretariat (report to be submitted by 30 September). If a report has not been submitted after this additional one year extension period (by 30th September + one year), and that the first recommendation issued by the Council is indicating that the site is not meeting the criteria, and that the second recommendation made by the Council indicates that the site is still not meeting the criteria, then the area will no longer be referred to as biosphere reserve of the WNBR. In specific cases, this deadline could be flexible upon an advice of the Advisory Committee.

  2. to reflect on an alert process for sites having difficulties and therefore on the criteria and procedures to be taken into account.

59. The Chair recalled that the periodic reviews were based on a self-evaluation, based on trust.

60. On the request of the Chair, the Secretariat presented preliminary proposals for supporting sites that do not fulfil the criteria or which have difficulties in issuing the periodic review report:

  1. organize specific technical workshops targeting difficulties such as zoning and governance. The host countries would have to bear the costs. These workshops could be systematically organized and hosted during meetings of the regional networks (such as the EuroMAB network, with an assistance workshop being held on proposals for new biosphere reserves and periodic examination reports);

  2. encourage the national UNESCO Commissions and eligible national MAB committees to request financial support via the UNESCO participation Programme;

  3. request that UNESCO chairs and centres (such as the Regional Post-Graduate Training School on Integrated Management of Tropical Forests - ERAIFT, the MAB Chair in France, in Spain, etc.) provide training and training centres to sites and countries that request them;

  4. mobilize the existing expertise and human resources in the context of technical and support missions, especially by inviting experts from the international Advisory Committee (currently active and from previous mandates), staff members from other biosphere reserves, from the MAB Secretariat and from regional UNESCO offices. Insofar as is possible, displacement and accommodation costs should be borne by the host countries, with the support of UNESCO, and no fee should be incurred in accordance with current practices in the MAB programme;

  5. use the operational directives (currently being prepared) to share the standard problems facing biosphere reserves, as well as their solutions, based on the diversity of the worldwide network of biosphere reserves;

  6. adopt a support mechanism based on periodic peer examination. A biosphere reserve that meets the requisite criteria may support and guide a site that is having difficulties in creating the periodic examination report and meeting the criteria. This peer examination process shall be voluntary.

  7. States Members could be invited to make a donation to the MAB funds to support some of the above-mentioned activities, in order to use the worldwide Network as a determining tool to increase the credibility and quality of its sites, and tangibly demonstrate cooperation and solidarity.

61. The Chair indicated that the peer support was crucial and enhancing the World Network. He also suggested that for the sites that are not meeting the criteria to clearly identify if the issues are linked to time, logistics, means, methodological and technical aspects, and to try to match the issues with the solutions presented in the document (see above a to g). The possibility to establish a help desk – for example, within the Secretariat - was mentioned.

Item 9 of the Agenda: Lima Action Plan Implementation Roadmap

62. In introducing the item, the MAB Secretariat referred to document SC-17/CONF.228C/Bureau.6 and its two annexes, stressing that the document presented did not present a roadmap as such, but an outline of a process that would generate the information needed to prepare and update the roadmap, as well as for the preparation of reports and evaluations called for under the MAB Strategy and the Lima Action Plan (LAP).

63. The Bureau recalled the richness of the LAP, with its large number of actions, actors, outputs and indicators. The fact that the LAP is so complete, calls for a roadmap and a reporting system that is comprehensive, while comprehensible, time- and resource-efficient, and that serve Member States interests and their priorities.

64. The Bureau underlined the importance of communicating and sharing lessons learnt in relation to LAP implementation among stakeholders, stressing in particular the critical role of regional and thematic MAB networks for this purpose. Several Bureau Members referred to national LAP workshops organized to present, discuss and share LAP experiences and related matters among a wide range of stakeholders.

65. While appreciating the efforts of the Secretariat to collect LAP roadmap and reporting information through a detailed Excel spreadsheet, as presented in the Annex, several Bureau members cautioned that it risked leaving stakeholders with a somewhat overwhelming impression and that the response rate therefore could be very low.

66. After some discussion, the MAB Bureau proposed that the MAB Secretariat should explore different options to be tested over a 12 month period in terms of roadmap and reporting information collection, analysis and sharing. In doing so, the MAB Secretariat was invited to consider adapting requests for information to fit different key stakeholder groups, and to collect, provide and disseminate examples of good practices in the LAP implementation.

67. The Bureau also requested that the Secretariat prepares a document for the next ICC that outlines a roadmap of all support that the MAB Secretariat is expected to provide for the implementation of the LAP, including reporting and evaluation of the LAP including reporting and evaluation of the LAP implementation, in order to identify the real possibilities according to available means and potential material or human difficulties and measures to solve them.

Item 10 of the Agenda: MAB Awards

10.1. Selection of MAB Young Scientists Awards (MAB YSA)

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