In June 2022 the Sunshine Coast local government area was granted recognition as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. UNESCO describes Biosphere Reserves as ‘learning places for sustainable development’.   I represent the health sector as one of 14 volunteers on the Community Advisory Group (CAG), working with the Biosphere Coordinating Committee and the Sunshine Coast Regional Council to implement the Biosphere Reserve.

The purpose of becoming a Biosphere Reserve is to assist council and the community to achieve their vision for the future of the region.  We want to be a sustainable region – being sustainable means meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  The Biosphere Reserve exists to support the stewardship of the valued environmental, cultural, and human capital of the Sunshine Coast.

My involvement was prompted by a sense of frustration that no matter how much I implement sustainable practices in my work and personal life, when I look around the globe I see poor-quality development, loss of habitat, natural disasters, unnatural disasters, obfuscation and discrediting of evidence, demonisation of scientists, greenwashing, spin-doctoring, broken promises, and ongoing destruction of the natural environment.  My refusal to use plastic speculums, tending my 10 acres of Land for Wildlife and nagging operating theatre staff for the non-disposable equipment options just don’t seem to be cutting it!!   It would be easy to become jaded by Australia’s slow progress in managing environmental challenges over the last 40 years, but I remind myself that doing nothing is not an acceptable option.  I have a firm belief that it is important to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.

There are, of course, positive initiatives happening in sites across the country – e.g., Metro North HHS’s Green Asset and Infrastructure projects, the Global Green and Healthy Hospital alliance and efforts by individuals to incorporate sustainability into their own practices.   Sustainability is to be included in ACSQH hospital accreditation standards.  An action as simple as changing a patient from regular aerosol-containing Metered Dose Inhalers to Dry Powdered Inhalers could reduce their annual carbon footprint by 420 kg CO2 equivalent!   A great example of how even small efforts on our part do make a significant difference.

Health care in Australia creates 7% of national Green House Gas emissions – compared to a world average of 4% (we use more fossil fuels).  Climate change, resource inequities and population movement will create huge challenges for our health systems in the future.  Like it or not, healthcare is a climate change issue, and climate change is a health issue.  The positive aspect of all this is that the health sector has a huge opportunity to make an important contribution for a better future.

So………………… what does the Sunshine Coast Biosphere Reserve have to do with all of this?

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  It aims to contribute to peace and security by promoting international cooperation in education, sciences, culture, communication, and information.  It was established at a United Nations Conference in London in November 1945.  Here, representatives of forty-four countries gathered to decide to create an organization that would embody a genuine culture of peace.  In their eyes, the new organization was to establish the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” and thereby prevent the outbreak of another world war.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a blueprint for working to peace and prosperity for people and the planet.  At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve the natural world.  UNESCO’s programmes contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goals for the Sunshine Coast BiosphereBiosphere Reserves are designated under the intergovernmental ‘Man and the Biosphere’ (MAB) Programme by the Director-General of UNESCO.  The core purpose of the UNESCO MAB programme is to “Inspire a positive future by connecting people and nature today.”

There are 3 functions that Biosphere Reserves must fulfil to maintain their status –

  • Conservation of biodiversity and cultural diversity
  • Economic development that is socio-culturally and environmentally sustainable
  • Logistic support – support and promotion of model projects through research, monitoring, education and training

The Sunshine Coast Biosphere objectives reflect these functions, with the addition of a fourth objective focussed on the people of the local community fostering sustainable practices.

Support for sustainable development is the main significant distinction between Biosphere Reserves and other designations or types of protected areas.  Logistic support plays a specific role in the integration of the three functions, grounding and underpinning the conservation and development functions.  Biosphere Reserves are sites for testing approaches to understanding and managing change and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity.  They promote solutions aiming to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources.  As far as possible, all Biosphere Reserve activities should be based on carefully adapted, high-quality scientific evidence.  Thus, the Biosphere Reserve network connects communities around the world that are pioneering a positive future for people and nature.  There are 748 Biosphere Reserves worldwide, 5 of which are in Australia.

Biosphere Reserve designation is non-statutory and does not override existing planning policy or existing local, state, or federal legislation.  However, the designation may assist in ensuring development and growth occur in a responsible and sustainable way in line with the intent of the programme.

A Biosphere Reserve is required to consist of:

Core Areas –   comprise a strictly protected publicly owned zone that contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species, and genetic variation.  The core areas should have appropriate legal protection ensuring that nature conservation is a priority.  The size of the core area depends on local and/or national conditions but it should be large enough to include appropriate habitats and ecosystems.

Buffer Zones –   surround or adjoin the core area(s) and is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training, and education.  The continuity of the core area with the buffer zone is crucial, including accessibility for animals (migration, nesting, etc.)   and plants (seeds, spores, fruits, pollen, etc.

Transition Areas –   where communities foster socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable economic and human activities.

The Sunshine Coast Biosphere map depicts these areas using slightly different terminology to reflect the local context.  The Biosphere Reserve areas apply to the land within the Sunshine Coast local government area and extends into the marine environment to three nautical miles.

Monitoring plays a vital role in fulfilling the Biosphere’s functions, as the knowledge gained through the process constitutes the basis for assessment of the state of the biosphere reserve and sound management decision-making.  Furthermore, sharing the data improves the impact of biosphere reserves on a larger scale.

A compulsory periodic report to UNESCO occurs every 10 years and entails a review of the functioning, zoning, scale of the biosphere reserve.  Its objective is to improve the quality of the Biosphere Reserves and their functioning as sites for testing and demonstrating approaches to sustainable development.  Other more frequent reviews should be used  as site-management tools, as part of an ongoing process. These reviews are usually performed by the Biosphere Reserve management entity to provide a performance assessment.  The Sunshine Coast Biosphere has developed a performance framework defining baseline status and targets for more than 30 sustainability measures, including health and well-being, aligned with the Biosphere’s objectives and the UNESCO SDGs.  This will be a key tool used to measure progress on sustainability for the region over the next decade.

The CAG provides advice to the Biosphere Coordinating Committee, the key decision-making body in the implementation of the Sunshine Coast Biosphere.  My goal is to assist in the successful establishment of the Biosphere Reserve in the hope that it will be another tool helping to ensure the health of the ecosystems, and the humans, on the Sunshine Coast.

I am very happy to discuss any issues around the Biosphere and can be contacted via

Beverley Powell




Montgomery B, Blakey J.    Respiratory Inhalers and the environment.  AJGP 2022;51(12): 929-34.

Janson C et al Carbon footprint of the choice of inhalers for asthma and COPD.  Thorax 2020 Jan; 75(1): 82-84.

Malik et al    The Carbon Footprint of Australian Healthcare. Lancet Planet Health 2018;2(1):e27-e35.

ACSQHC Review of Sustainable Health Care

Yin R et al Sustainable General Practice.   AJGP  2023; 52(5): 257-261.

Healthcare’s Climate Footprint.  2019 Healthcare without Harm Green Paper


Decarbonising Clinical Care in Australia.   Deeble Institute Policy Briefing paper 2022


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