Man and the Biosphere (MAB)

In 1971 the UNESCO programme 'Man and the Biosphere' (MAB) was launched by UNESCO.

It is the first intergovernmental scientific programme that deals with the relationship between humans and the environment. The first biosphere reserves were recognized and established in 1978 according to the international guidelines for the world network of biosphere reserves. There are now 714 UNESCO biosphere reserves in 129 countries (as of December 2020).

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Schaalsee has been part of this global network since 2000.

Strohballen auf Feld im Morgengrauen © R. Colell

Unlike national parks, UNESCO biosphere reserves do not protect original natural landscapes. Rather, the aim is to preserve cultural landscapes whose scenic character and ecological richness are decisively influenced by economic use. Human economic activity is explicitly included in the concept of biosphere reserves. There are 18 biosphere reserves in Germany. UNESCO recognised 16 of them . These areas are representative of the diversity of habitats and fauna and flora in this country.


Almost all German biosphere reserves are located in rural areas and are therefore a concept for the future, especially for these areas. Because of their low environmental impact and attractive landscape, they are regions with a high quality of life and popular holiday and local recreation areas. In order to preserve this valuable asset, the regions are developed in harmony with humans and nature. Biosphere reserves are model regions for the development and testing of sustainable economic practices and the sustainable use of natural resources.

In Germany, recognition as a UNESCO biosphere reserve requires that an area meets a total of 40 criteria. These were defined by the National Committee for the programme ‘Man and the Biosphere’.

The most important requirement is that the area must have landscapes and habitats that are not yet represented in this form in the world network of biosphere reserves. A biosphere reserve must be representative of unique landscape areas. The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Schaalsee represents the landscape type "Baltic beech forest". Other requirements include the size of the area, the zoning of the area, and the existence of an information centre.

Each global UNESCO Biosphere Reserve follows three functions:

Protective function

The goal is to contribute to the conservation of the natural process and the biological diversity. Negative developments, like the rapidly progressing extinction of species, should be worked against. The focus of nature conservation is the maintaining of landscapes and their ecosystems, the protection of genetic resources und the diversity of the ecosystem. Furthermore, sustainable usage of the available natural goods, like water, soil and air are of importance.

Developmental function

In supporting a sustainable development, the societal and economic developments of the region should be strengthened. This includes the formation of regional value creation chains as well as close to nature and location appropriate farming of the landscape. Biosphere reserves as model regions offer the possibility to venture on new paths, to try innovative environmentally friendly technologies and to develop sustainable ways of land use.

Logistic Support

Local, regional, national and global issues for conservation and sustainable development are  investigated utilising research and environmental observation. Furthermore, guests in the region are to be given the opportunity for information and education.

The strength of UNESCO biosphere reserves as model regions remains in the implementation of sustainable development. Against the background of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the comprehensive and globally valid Lima Action Plan was adopted with numerous actions. 

This catalogue of actions serves the concrete implementation of the MAB Strategy from 2015 to 2025, which was adopted by the International Coordinating Council of the MAB Programme (MAB ICC) and confirmed by the UNESCO General Conference in 2015. The Lima Action Plan itself is a binding document to which UNESCO Member States explicitly committed themselves in a decision of the UNESCO Executive Board in October 2016. 

Until 2025, these mandates and the following challenges exist worldwide:

Conserving biodiversity, producing, and enhancing ecosystem services and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Living and conducting business in harmony with nature

Increased capacity in the fields of science and education

Supporting mitigation and adaptation measures to the impacts of climate change and other aspects of global environmental change

Use of modern and transparent ways of communication and information dissemination.

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You can find more detailed and additional information here: 

Aktionsplan von Lima, deutsche Übersetzung 

Global goals for sustainable development 

17 bunte Farbtafeln mit den Nachhaltigkeitszielen. Blauer Schriftzug "ZIELE FÜR NACHHALTIGE ENTWICKLUNG" mit einem mehrfarbigen Kreis als Logo. © www.undp.org
The official logo for the 17 SDG, goals for a sustainable development.

As model regions for sustainable development, the implementation of the globally binding UN Sustainable Development Goals is both an aspiration and an obligation for our work in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Addtional Information for the MAB-Programme:

German Commission for UNESCO