AGORA – When Belval became an integral part of a Unesco biosphere reserve
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When Belval became an integral part of a Unesco biosphere reserve

The Minett Unesco Biosphere Reserve, over the area of Belval and the Southern Region is unique in the world due to its post-industrial character. Account with Gaëlle Tavernier, regional manager of the Pro-Sud union.

“Saving nature is saving mankind. “This is how we could sum up the mission of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere programme,” Gaëlle Tavernier tells us. Belval is fully committed to this major objective.

“Man and Biosphere is an intergovernmental scientific programme aiming to improve the relationship between man and the environment and to safeguard ecosystems. It celebrates territories marked by their biodiversity but also by innovative approaches to sustainable economic development.”

A story that begins in Peru

The idea of a biosphere reserve on the territory of the former mines and steelworks in the Southern Region starts to take shape in 2016, when Simone Beck, President of the Luxembourg National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO, attends the World Congress of Biosphere Reserves in Lima. From Peru to Luxembourg there was only one step.

“A think tank was quickly set up,” says Gaëlle Tavernier. It was composed of historians, architects and representatives of the tourist industry. The Pro-Sud union was immediately approached to take charge of the project.”

Obtaining the biosphere reserve label did not take long. It must be said that the territory dictated it. “The Southern Region is favourable because it is a small area of 200km2 where you can definitely find all the criteria, in addition to the uniqueness of the industrial heritage – there are few reserves like anywhere in the world.”

Nature has reclaimed it

When industry came to a halt in the Region, towards the end of the 1990s, we witnessed an unexpected and encouraging phenomenon: nature quickly reclaimed it. “ On the calcareous grasslands and wet meadows, rare flowers have appeared, says Gaelle Tavernier. “The sites are also home to special flora and fauna, orchids, butterflies, bats, amphibians, lizards, reptiles, birds.

“We must push the message of hope,” declares Gaëlle Tavernier with optimism. Nautre has reclaimed a territory that was thought by many to be too polluted and desolate for ever. Human activity is not always strictly damaging to the environment when what we do is necessary to delineate it.”

In a world of ecological and climate crisis pointing to a worrying future, this is indeed something to celebrate. But humanity must roll up its sleeves. The Minett Unesco Biosphere provides a fitting framework for long-term actions, in close dialogue with the 11 municipalities of its territory (Bettembourg, Differdange, Dudelange, Esch-sur-Alzette, Käerjeng, Kayl, Mondercange, Pétange, Rumelange, Sanem and Schifflange).

“We are developing a regional territorial vision with them,” explains the regional manager of the Pro-Sud union. Land use, quiet zones, protection of natural and industrial heritage, environmental education and the establishment of natural spaces are on the agenda of our daily conversations.”

Belval at the heart of the Reserve

Because it also aims to enhance the traces of the industrial period, as they appear today over an area that is favourable to biodiversity and in a sustainable neighbourhood, the Minett Unesco Biosphere treasures Belval and its modern architecture integrated into the industrial heritage of the former Arcelor-Mittal works. This is the case for the mixed neighbourhood project being developed by AGORA in Esch-Schifflange, which is fully in line with the objectives of the Minett.

Belval is also fully part of the Reserve because of its residential developments being built with a view to combining human activity and respect for the environment. Gaëlle Tavernier: “The urban developments in the territory of the Southern Region are based on the requirements of the city of the future, where people will live side by side with nature reserves and where the citizen wants a habitat geared to the objective of decarbonisation.”

AGORA understood the emergence of these new needs and decided to meet them. Belval can be taken as an example in terms of energy, the thinking about the green infrastructure or the low level of light pollution.

This was the wish of the citizens who gave their opinions during the preparatory stages of the region’s application to the Man and Biosphere programme. A wide consultation was conducted with the population who expressed their desire to live in green cities, but also to share this with the rest of the world through the development of sustainable tourism.

“This is indeed one of the main objectives of the Minett Unesco Biosphere,” concludes Gaëlle Tavernier. And the dialogue is taking place on a large scale with all the municipalities in the area, all of which are concerned with land use, issues of energy, mobility and the establishment of natural spaces. In this spirit, a new chapter will soon open on the future site of Esch-Shifflange.

"Il était une fois" tells the history of AGORA through its events and encounters with people who have marked its history.

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