The importance of Systems Thinking and Practice for creating biosphere reserves as "learning laboratories for sustainable development"

Nam Cao Nguyen, Ockie J.H. Bosch, Kambiz E. Maani


UNESCO has recommended the launch of pilot projects to use biosphere reserves as learning laboratories or spaces to address the gap between biosphere reserve knowledge systems (scientific, experiential, and indigenous) and the imperative for wider sustainable development. In this regard, a pilot project in the Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve (CBBR) in northern Vietnam has been initiated. The project has three major aims that address:
• the needs of UNESCO/MAB and the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) initiative by contributing to sustainable development knowledge and education globally;
• the environment (e.g. biodiversity), livelihood of people (e.g. poverty alleviation) and economic benefits (such as sharing in the revenue from a booming tourism industry); and
• the adoption of policies and processes by Government and management bodies to ensure that long term sustainable management will become institutionalised and ongoing.
This paper discusses the use of systems thinking concepts and tools in creating learning laboratories for sustainable development. The biosphere reserve and sustainable development literature as well as the learning laboratories for sustainable development concept will be briefly described. The importance of systems thinking methodology and applications to deal with ever-increasing complexities of sustainable development will be discussed. A Causal Loop Model of Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve integrating policy, social, environmental, and economic dimensions has been developed to identify key leverage points and where systemic interventions will be most effective (potential research projects). This model also serves as a platform for research collaboration through alliances and multi-disciplinary teams to address the various domains, leverage points, and interventions identified. The model and approach could serve as a pilot for other biosphere reserves in Vietnam and globally.


systems thinking; causal loop modelling; leverage points; learning laboratories; sustainable development; Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve

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