Badman said the legacy of Yellowstone and other areas in the United States motivated many global initiatives, and he noted many opportunities to connect U.S. geoheritage with global practice. Badman suggested IUCN itself can serve as “a good barometer of global discourse” related to the growing recognition of geoheritage. In 2008, the World Conservation Congress adopted its first resolution on “Conservation of Geodiversity and Geological Heritage,”1 and awareness of geodiversity and its connections to nature conservation have grown since then. He described three efforts to recognize Earth heritage at a global level: World Heritage sites, Global Geoparks, and Protected Areas.
The World Heritage Convention recognizes areas with universal cultural or natural significance, and Badman referred to it as one of the most important global conservation instruments. The United States was the Convention’s first signatory in the 1970s, and, he said, U.S. leadership provided the “DNA” behind the concept. To achieve World Heritage status, a site must meet one or more of 10 criteria2—of which six relate to cultural heritage, and four relate to natural heritage, with Criterion 8 particularly focusing on geology. Despite 10 separate criteria, he added, “there is an increasing focus on the interaction of culture and nature in the designation and protection of cultural landscapes.” He also noted most of the U.S. World Heritage sites were listed in the 1970s and 1980s. “The question is what do the 2020s and 2030s hold for U.S. engagement in the World Heritage Convention?” he asked rhetorically.
Ninety-three of the 252 natural World Heritage sites (which cover about 8 percent of protected areas globally) are designated to date to pay special attention to Earth heritage; World Heritage Convention coverage of Earth Heritage is still uneven regionally, with only eight sites in Africa and two in Arab states, he said. IUCN provides guidance on the potential of World Heritage listings through a thematic framework, currently under revision. There are 10 U.S. World Heritage listings with significant geologic interest. The most recent two were added in 1995 (Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico) and 2010 (Papahanaumokuakea in Hawai’i). Seven other site proposals are on the Tentative List, Badman added, and other options are identified in IUCN thematic guidance.
A second major international designation is the UNESCO Global Geopark Network. Badman explained that a Global Geopark is designated to “manage outstanding geological sites and landscapes in a holistic manner,” including protection, education, and sustainable development. In 2015, UNESCO’s member states approved Global Geopark standards and guidelines, rather than rely on nations’ self-developed rules and processes. Badman stressed that it is a bottom-up approach to empower local communities, rather than UNESCO coming in to identify or legislate areas. To date, there are 161 Geoparks located in 44 countries, mostly in Europe and Asia. Four U.S. areas began developing Global Geopark applications, but they
became ineligible with the 2018 U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO. (See below for summaries of presentations from representatives of two such geoheritage areas, in Michigan and West Virginia, to explain how they redirected their efforts to continue to promote geoheritage even if not as a formal Global Geopark.)
Brennan Jordan, University of South Dakota, from the focus group on geotourism and outdoor recreation, remarked that “Global Geoparks can be a model on how to use geoheritage to integrate geotourism, outdoor recreation, economic development, and community engagement, even for projects at a much smaller scale.”
Badman said the third and potentially largest opportunity to include more geodiversity in conservation work is through protected areas such as parks and reserves. Geodiversity is recognized within IUCN’s definition of nature: “in this context, nature always refers to biodiversity at genetic, species, and ecosystem level, and often also refers to geodiversity landform and broader natural values.”3 The IUCN Geoheritage Specialist Group recently completed a guidance document on geoconservation in protected areas.4
The global scientific community has a role through the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), said Asier Hilario, Basque Coast Global Geopark (Spain), and chair of the newly formed IUGS International Commission on Geoheritage. IUGS already collaborates with other entities when geological knowledge is needed, he explained, such as in designating Global Geoparks and World Heritage sites. To develop its own proactive program, IUGS launched the commission in 2020 with the overall goal to become the global leader in geoheritage activities. The commission is now establishing its organizational and operational goals, and Hilario invited U.S. participation.
In considering a future role of the United States in global efforts, Badman shared five suggestions: (1) communicate more about U.S. geoheritage globally, (2) build a national initiative for potential Global Geoparks by matching current international guidance and standards, (3) engage with the potential nomination of new U.S. World Heritage sites, (4) support participation in international geoconservation efforts, and (5) build international connections with IUCN and other organizations.
Members of the focus group on aligning U.S. and other international initiatives acknowledged that even if the U.S.–UNESCO relationship is reestablished, some communities may resist a connection to a UNESCO-related project, according to focus group spokesperson Robert Burns, West Virginia University. However, he said the group agreed with Badman that even without a formal connection to the UNESCO Global Geopark Network, U.S. geoheritage researchers and practitioners should tap into global initiatives, such as attending and presenting at meetings, ensuring U.S. standards align with global standards, and cooperating with IUCN.
3 Dudley, N. (ed.) 2008. Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.