There are four fundamental features to a UNESCO Global Geopark. These features are an absolute prerequisite for an area to become a UNESCO Global Geopark. The exact criteria for an area to become a UNESCO Global Geopark are set out in the Operational Guidelines for UNESCO Global Geoparks (pdf).
The four features that are fundamental to a UNESCO Global Geopark are:
- Geological heritage of international value
In order to become a UNESCO Global Geopark, the area must have geological heritage of international value. This is assessed by scientific professionals, as part of the “UNESCO Global Geopark Evaluation Team”. Based on the international peer-reviewed, published research conducted on the geological sites within the area, the scientific professionals make a globally comparative assessment to determine whether the geological sites constitute international value.
UNESCO Global Geoparks are managed by a body having legal existence recognized under national legislation. This management body should be appropriately equipped to address the entire area and should include all relevant local and regional actors and authorities. UNESCO Global Geoparks require a management plan, agreed upon by all the partners, that provides for the social and economic needs of the local populations, protects the landscape in which they live and conserves their cultural identity. This plan must be comprehensive, incorporating the governance, development, communication, protection, infrastructure, finances, and partnerships of the UNESCO Global Geopark.
UNESCO Global Geoparks promote sustainable local economic development mainly through geotourism. In order to stimulate the geotourism in the area, it is crucial that a UNESCO Global Geopark has visibility. Visitors as well as local people need to be able to find relevant information on the UNESCO Global Geopark. As such, UNESCO Global Geoparks need to provide information via a dedicated website, leaflets, and detailed map of the area that connects the area’s geological and other sites. A UNESCO Global Geopark should also have a corporate identity.
A UNESCO Global Geopark is not only about cooperation with the local people living in the UNESCO Global Geopark area, but also about cooperating with other UNESCO Global Geoparks through the Global Geoparks Network (GGN), and regional networks for UNESCO Global Geoparks, in order to learn from each other and, as a network, improve the quality of the label UNESCO Global Geopark. Working together with international partners is the main reason for UNESCO Global Geoparks to be a member of an international network such as the GGN. Membership of the GGN is obligatory for UNESCO Global Geoparks. By working together across borders, UNESCO Global Geoparks contribute to increasing understanding among different communities and as such help peace-building processes.
UNESCO Global Geoparks inform people about the sustainable use and need for natural resources, 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. Since the dawn of humanity natural resources provided by the Earth’s solid crust have been the basis for our social and economic development. These resources include minerals, hydrocarbons, rare earth elements, geothermal energy, air and water, and their sustainable use is vital for the continued future well-being of society. Any element which can be found on Earth has its origin in geology and geological processes, is non-renewable and its exploitation has to be treated wisely. UNESCO Global Geoparks inform people about the sustainable use and need for natural resources, 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.
Many UNESCO Global Geoparks promote awareness of geological hazards, including volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and many help prepare disaster mitigation strategies among local communities. Many UNESCO Global Geoparks promote awareness of geological hazards, including volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and many help prepare disaster mitigation strategies among local communities. Through educational activities for the local people and visitors, many UNESCO Global Geoparks give information on the source of geological hazards and ways to reduce their impact including disaster response strategies. These efforts build important capacity and contribute to building more resilient communities that have the knowledge and skills to effectively respond to potential geological hazards.
UNESCO Global Geoparks hold records of past climate change and are educators on current climate change as well as adopting a best practise approach to utilising renewable energy and employing the best standards of “green tourism.” While some UNESCO Global Geoparks stimulate green growth in the region through innovative projects, others serve as outdoor museums on the effects of current climate change thus giving the opportunity to show visitors how climate change can affect our environment.
Such community and educational activities and projects are important in order to raise awareness on the potential impact of climate change on the region, and to provide the local communities with the knowledge to mitigate and adapt to the potential effects of climate change.
It is a pre-requisite that all UNESCO Global Geoparks develop and operate educational activities for all ages to spread awareness of our geological heritage and its links to other aspects of our natural, cultural and intangible heritages. UNESCO Global Geoparks offer educational programmes for schools
or offer special activities for children through “Kids Clubs” or special “Fossil Fun Days”. UNESCO Global Geoparks also offer education, both formal and informal, for adults and retired people while many provide training for local people who can then, in turn, teach others.
UNESCO Global Geoparks are thus encouraged to work with academic institutions to engage in active scientific research in the Earth Sciences, and other disciplines as appropriate, to advance our knowledge about the Earth and its processes. A UNESCO Global Geopark is not a museum, it is an active laboratory where people can become engaged in science from the highest academic research level to the level of the curious visitor. A UNESCO Global Geopark must take great care not to alienate the public from science and absolutely must avoid the use of technical-scientific language on information boards, signs, leaflets, maps and books which are aimed at the general public.
The motto of UNESCO Global Geoparks is “Celebrating Earth Heritage, Sustaining Local Communities”. UNESCO Global Geoparks are fundamentally about people and about exploring and celebrating the links between our communities and the Earth. The Earth has shaped who we are: it has shaped our farming practices, the building materials and methods we have used for our homes, even our mythology, folklore and folk traditions. UNESCO Global Geoparks, therefore, engage in a range of activities to celebrate these links. Many UNESCO Global Geoparks have strong links to the arts communities where the synergy released by bringing science and the arts together can yield surprising results.
UNESCO Global Geoparks have a strong emphasize on empowering women whether through focussed education programmes or through the development of women’s cooperatives. UNESCO Global Geoparks are a platform for the development, nurturing and promotion of local cottage industry and craft products. In some UNESCO Global Geoparks women’s cooperatives also provide an opportunity for women to obtain additional income in their own area and on their own terms. They can, for example, operate accommodation services for visitors.
Even if an area has an outstanding, world-famous geological heritage of outstanding universal value it cannot be a UNESCO Global Geopark unless the area also has a plan for the sustainable development of the people who live there. This may take the form of sustainable tourism through, for example, the development of walking or cycling trails, training of local people to act as guides, encouraging tourism
and accommodation providers to follow international best practice in environmental sustainability. But it can also be about simply engaging with local people and respecting their traditional way of life in a way that empowers them and respects their human rights and dignity. Unless a UNESCO Global Geopark has the support of local people it will not succeed. UNESCO Global Geopark status does not imply restrictions on any economic activity inside a UNESCO Global Geopark where that activity complies with indigenous, local, regional and/or national legislation.
Local and indigenous Knowledge
UNESCO Global Geoparks actively involve local and indigenous peoples, preserving and celebrating their culture. By involving local and indigenous communities, UNESCO Global Geoparks recognize the importance of these communities, their culture and the link between these communities and their land. It is one of the criteria of UNESCO Global Geoparks that local and indigenous knowledge, practice and management systems, alongside science, are included in the planning and management of the area.
UNESCO Global Geoparks are areas that use the concept of sustainability, value the heritage of Mother Earth and recognize the need to protect it. The defining geological sites in UNESCO Global Geoparks are protected by indigenous, local, regional and/or national law and management authorities, in cooperation with the appropriate agencies, which allow for the necessary monitoring and maintenance of these sites. Appropriate protection measures for each site are set out in individual site management plans. The management body of a UNESCO Global Geopark will also not participate directly in the sale of geological objects such as fossils, minerals, polished rocks and ornamental rocks of the type normally found in so-called “rock-shops” within the area, and many actively discourage unsustainable trade in
geological materials as a whole. It does not refer to material for normal industrial and household use which is sourced by quarrying and/or mining and which will be subject to regulation under national and/or international legislation.
Under certain circumstances and where clearly justified as a responsible activity the management body may permit sustainable collecting of geological materials for scientific and educational purposes from naturally renewable sites within the UNESCO Global Geopark. Trade of geological materials (in accordance with national legislation on Earth heritage conservation) based on such a system may be tolerated in exceptional circumstances, provided it is clearly and publicly explained, justified and monitored as the best option for the UNESCO Global Geopark in relation to local circumstances. Such circumstances will be subject to debate and approval on a case by case basis.
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Especially target 1.5
"By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters"
Disaster risk reduction is essential to ending poverty and fostering sustainable development. The bottom-up approach of the UNESCO Global Geoparks reduces the vulnerability of local communities to extreme events and other shocks and disasters through active risk awareness and resilience training.
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Especially target 4.7
"By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development"
UNESCO Global Geoparks actively educate their local communities and their visitors of all ages. UNESCO Global Geoparks are outdoor classrooms and incubators for sustainable development, sustainable lifestyles, appreciation of cultural diversity and the promotion of peace.
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Especially target 5.5:
"Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life"
UNESCO Global Geoparks strongly emphasize the empowerment of women through educational programmes or the development of women’s cooperatives. Such cooperatives provide an opportunity for women to obtain an additional income in their own area and on their own terms.
Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Especially target 8.9:
"By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and product"
The promotion of sustainable local economic development through sustainable (geo)tourism is one of the key pillars of a UNESCO Global Geopark. This creates job opportunities for the local communities through tourism, but also through the promotion of local culture and products.
Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Especially target 11.4:
"Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage"
Protection, safeguarding and celebrating our cultural and natural heritage are the foundation of the holistic approach of the UNESCO Global Geoparks. UNESCO Global Geoparks aim to give local people a sense of pride in their region and strengthen the identification with the area.
Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Especially target 13.3:
"Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning"
All UNESCO Global Geoparks hold records of past climate change and are educators on current climate change. Through educational activities awareness is raised on the issue and people are provided with knowledge to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
"Enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism"
"Enhance international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries to support national plans to implement all the sustainable development goals, including through North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation"
and target 17.16:
"Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries, in particular developing countries"
UNESCO Global Geoparks are all about partnership and cooperation, not only between local stakeholders but also internationally through regional and global networks were knowledge, ideas and best practices are shared. Experienced geoparks guide aspiring geoparks to reach their full potential.