Story | 06 Dec, 2015

IUCN salutes new UNESCO status for Global Geoparks

Geological areas designated as part of the Global Geoparks Network (GGN) have now gained a higher status of recognition, following a decision to label them as UNESCO sites. This move is welcome by IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, whose Members adopted resolutions at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2008 and 2012 in support of geoheritage conservation.

Recognising the importance of managing outstanding geological sites and landscapes in a holistic manner, UNESCO has ratified the creation of a new label, “UNESCO Global Geoparks”, during its 38th General Conference in Paris, France in November 2015. The organisation will support efforts by countries all around the world to establish UNESCO Global Geoparks in close collaboration with the GGN.

IUCN, which is the official advisory body on nature under the World Heritage Convention, has long recognised the importance of conserving geological heritage – or geoheritage – which is important for natural values as well as cultural and socioeconomic ones. A bureau member of the GGN since its establishment in 2004, IUCN will continue to have a consultation role.

“IUCN is delighted to have been associated with the work of the Global Geoparks, encouraged consistently by UNESCO, in the last decade,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “We can bear witness to this initiative’s strong outcomes, which demonstrate consistent results on the ground due to the excellent work of the site managers, local authorities, local communities and national agencies.”

Today the world counts 120 Global Geoparks in 33 countries, which have now acquired the new UNESCO status. Global Geoparks are areas that incorporate geological features of international significance. Having no formal legal protection, they are conserved through a bottom-up, community-led approach which helps to ensure they are used as a sustainable economic asset, such as through the development of responsible tourism.

For example, Ireland’s Burren and Cliffs of Moher Global Geopark, which comprises geological, archaeological and cultural sites, is managed through local networks, including ecotourism cooperatives and voluntary landscape conservation initiatives.

Global Geoparks help to promote awareness of key issues – such as geological hazards like volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis – and of mitigation strategies helping local communities to prepare for disaster. They also serve as examples showing the need to use natural resources sustainably, whether they are mined, quarried or harnessed from the surrounding environment, while at the same time promoting respect for the environment and the integrity of the landscape.

IUCN Members, who include government, civil society and private sector members, adopted resolutions in 2008 and 2012 calling on the global conservation community to support the protection and management of the world’s geodiversity and geoheritage. The resolutions recognised UNESCO’s pioneering work in promoting through the GGN the socioeconomic interests and sustainable use of geoheritage.

IUCN is also carrying out a project stemming from a 2012 resolution related to geoparks, in coordination with UNESCO and the Ramsar Convention. Its objective is to harmonise the integrated management of areas with multiple international designations, including Ramsar wetlands and three types of UNESCO sites – World Heritage sites, Biosphere Reserves and Global Geoparks.

Jeju Island in the Republic of Korea, where IUCN’s Congress was held in 2012, contains all four designations and managing them together can be challenging. The project aims to help identify common solutions and opportunities for synergies in such areas where international designations coexist. Written guidance will be launched at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i in September 2016.

Held every four years, the IUCN World Conservation Congress brings together people from a wide range of backgrounds, including governments, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, civil society and academy, who discuss and take decisions on the global conservation agenda for the next four years.

UNESCO’s work with geoparks began in 2001 and the first Global Geopark was designated in 2004. The new label formalises the organisation's relationship with the Global Geopark Network.