The spotlight on youth: Young people as key stakeholders in biosphere reserves and the Man and the Biosphere Programme

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Barraclough, Alicia Donnellan
Måren, Ingel Elisabeth
MAB Youth Consortia
Sustainable development has at his heart the mission to make our planet a life-sustaining place for future generations. Young stakeholders are key to sustainability transformations, both as active participants that push them forward but also as actors vulnerable to being left behind. As testing sites for sustainable development, Biosphere Reserves (BRs) are home to millions of young people in over 124 countries. Very little research or knowledge exists on how young people experience living in BRs, how they contribute towards BRs’ goals, or how they see BRs moving forward under global change. To increase young stakeholder’s visibility and inclusion in the MAB programme, UNESCO-MAB has organized two MAB Youth Forums attended by over 300 youth, one in Italy in 2017 and one in China in 2019. Here we present a short commentary on what we believe were the main take-away’s generated during these events and the research that followed them. Firstly, we present a research note of the first global-level study on young stakeholder’s perspectives of BR implementation, discussing a thematic analysis of the results generated during the MAB-Youth Forum workshops and surveys. Secondly, we present an overview of the “MAB Youth Declaration”, a collaborative text which was generated over the course of four days and which distils the main messages young people living in BRs wish to convey to the MAB community and beyond. Our paper highlights the important role young stakeholders play in BRs, whose understandings reflect the social, economic and ecological complexity in which BRs are embedded. Their concerns span a diversity of topics, from the relevance of fair conservation practices and respect for biocultural diversity, to the importance of sustainable livelihood opportunities and fair youth representation in decisionmaking bodies. Thus, we highlight research findings on the need to increase young stakeholder integration and participation within environmental governance. Finally, we urge the BR research community to practice youth-inclusive research that helps generate knowledge to support evidence-based decision making in BRs.
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