Origin of the Biosphere Eco-City (BEC)

Creation of the Biosphere Eco-City Model was stimulated by a UNESCO decision to bring the study of urban issues back into its Man and Biosphere (MAB) Program. This brought a proposal in 2002 that contained the BEC model (under another name). In 2009, a Canada MAB pilot study to test the model created the Ottawa Biosphere Eco-City (OBEC) initiative in that city. The OBEC Council continues to test BEC tools and sends quarterly progress reports to UNESCO, although it is not currently part of the MAB program. Ottawa volunteers would be pleased to help other cities explore the BEC model.

The Man and Biosphere (MAB) Program of UNESCO began in 1971 to reduce human impacts on the Biosphere and to promote the human benefits of living more in harmony with nature. Well over one hundred participating countries have carried out thousands of demonstration projects since then. These projects were cooperative, community based and shared internationally. The MAB approach has been an inspiration for program members and for other international organizations.

Urban studies had been part of MAB for its first decade. Then the program began to focus increasingly on biosphere reserves – large areas that demonstrate conservation and sustainability in major natural ecosystems. Twenty years later, when MAB asked a group of experts to recommend how to bring urban studies back into the program, they proposed designation of “urban biosphere reserves.”

While this was going on, an individual made a proposal to UNESCO in 2002 calling for the return of the former MAB Urban Component (separate from biosphere reserves). This proposal included a model called “MAB Urban Demonstration Areas” (MUDA). Following a meeting in Brazil in 2007, MUDA was renamed Biosphere Eco Cities (BEC). The MUDA/BEC idea was discussed in and around MAB meetings in Rome, Paris, Madrid and Jeju (Korea) from 2002 to 2009.

In 2008, the Chair of the Canada MAB Committee and the developer of the BEC model met with City of Ottawa officials to discuss a test of the BEC model. Civic officials enthusiastically endorsed the pilot study, although they did not provide human or financial resources.

The Ottawa pilot study of the BEC model began, in March 2009, with formation of the Ottawa BEC Council. Over the next year, 39 volunteers implemented most of the elements of the BEC model. The pilot study concluded with a performance report to UNESCO. The Ottawa BEC Council now sends quarterly reports to UNESCO. In April 2010, the Mayor of Ottawa presented the annual Eco-Stewardship Award to a member or the Ottawa BEC Council.

The Ottawa BEC Council continues as a volunteer initiative, without core funding. This modest approach demonstrates the simplicity and viability of the BEC approach. The BEC model has not been incorporated into the MAB program, although some elements may have been adopted.

Cities in Canada and other countries are welcome to apply the BEC model to their sustainability activities. If you would like to discuss how the Ottawa BEC Council might help you with this, please click Contact us.