Geoparks should not look to work in isolation, and most seek to become members of their regional Geopark Network and ultimately aspire to become members of the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network, and this Toolkit is designed to help Geoparks in these aims.
- Overview of Networks – National, Regional and UNESCO Global Geoparks
- Transnational Geoparks
- Collaborative Projects
- Joining the GGN – Geopark Evaluation and Revalidation
- Case Studies
Geopark Networks currently exist at three levels:
- National (National Geoparks forums)
- Regional (e.g. European Geoparks Network – EGN; Asia-Pacific Network – APGN)
- Global (UNESCO Global Geoparks Network – GGN)
2. Overview of Networks – National, Regional, UNESCO Global Geoparks
2.a National Geoparks Forums
National Geoparks forums were established in several countries in Europe following a decision of the EGN Coordination Committee in 2007 with the aim of promoting Geoparks at the national level. The National fora include all the members of the EGN resident in a nation. It serves for the exchange of information and co-operation between Global Geoparks in the region, and it plays an important role in new applications and revalidations of Geoparks, as well as providing scientific and technical support.
Similar national networks exist in parts of the Asia-Pacific region including China, Indonesia and Japan, where a number of Geoparks designated at the national level are working towards attaining UNESCO Global Geopark status with the support of the Asia -Pacific Geoparks Network.
2.b Regional Geoparks Networks
i. European Geoparks Network
The European Geoparks Network (EGN) was established in 2000. The EGN aims to strengthen cooperation between geoparks on the protection of the geological heritage and the promotion of sustainable development, through the creation and implementation of common strategies for developing geotourism, educational and cultural activities. For Global Geoparks in Europe, the EGN acts as the Regional Network of the GGN, coordinating the GGN activities at regional level. The activities of EGN include the organisation of the European Geoparks Conference, European Geoparks Week, workshops and seminars, capacity building activities, common projects, promotional activities and tools and common publications. In April 2001 the network signed with UNESCO an official agreement of collaboration placing the Network under the auspices of the organization.
The network operates primarily by continuous electronic communication, frequent coordination meetings, and the establishment of common projects through which Geopark territories can exchange ideas, experiences and best practices, thereby supporting each other to achieve their common goals, and aspiring Geoparks are encouraged to tap into this experience as they begin to develop as a Geopark and prepare their application to join the network.
ii. Asia Pacific Geoparks Network
The Asia–Pacific Geoparks Network (APGN) is the second Regional Network of the GGN and is now supporting Geoparks across Asia, South-east Asia and the Middle East. It was founded in 2007 and was endorsed by GGN in 2008, becoming its official regional Geopark network in 2013.
As a regional Geopark network, the APGN is the organiser of several workshops and seminars, capacity building activities, common projects, promotional activities and common publications between the member countries and UNESCO Global Geoparks. Besides the regular meetings of the Advisory and Co-ordination Committees, the most important events of the network are the biennial symposiums, a place of exchange on research activities and management practices in geoparks.
iii. Latin America and Caribbean Geoparks Network
The Latin America and Caribbean Geoparks Network was established in 2017 and includes all UNESCO Global Geoparks within the Americas south of the United States border with Mexico.
iv. African Geoparks Network
The most recent member of the regional Geoparks network family, the African Geoparks Network was formed in 2019 and includes all UNESCO Global Geoparks established across the continent.
2.c Global Geoparks Network
The Global Geoparks Network (GGN) is a not-for-profit and non-governmental organization, initially founded in 2004 as an international partnership developed under the umbrella of UNESCO, and officially registered as an association in 2014, representing the official partner of UNESCO for the operation of the UNESCO Global Geoparks. The GGN:
- sets ethical standards that must be adopted and respected by all members of the Network,
- organises co-operation and mutual assistance between Global Geoparks and Geoparks professionals,
- has established and co-ordinates thematic Working Groups,
- advances and disseminates knowledge in Geodiversity management and other disciplines related to studies in geo-conservation, geotourism, geo-education and/or activities of Global Geoparks as a whole.
The main GGN capacity building activities include:
- The International Intensive Course on Geoparks – Lesvos
- The International Intensive Course on UNESCO Global Geoparks – Beijing
- Workshops and Meetings.
Aspiring and new Geoparks are encouraged to attend as many courses and meetings as they can to gain experience of networking and explore opportunities to develop their application or build on their successful submission.
UNESCO Global Geoparks sit within UNESCO’s International Geoscience and Geoparks Programme (IGGP) ratified by member states in 2015. The IGGP was established to encourage international cooperation between areas with geological heritage of international value, through a bottom-up holistic approach to conservation, local community support, promotion of heritage and sustainable development of the area. Belonging to UNESCO’s dynamic global network provides new partnership, programme and funding opportunities and offers international visibility. UNESCO involvement also provides the opportunity to participate and host International conferences, which brings both economic and reputational benefit to the region.
Geoparks should remember that as part of the UNESCO GGN, quality control processes are required which streamline work, reduce duplication, and inspire work to a world class standard – there are opportunities to highlight such activities to UNESCO in periodic reports and through annual reviews.
- List of members of the Global Geoparks Network
3. Transnational Geoparks
An effective way to connect people of different countries
A few Geoparks have been established which straddle international borders. The first to do so was Marble Arch Caves Geopark, originally sited wholly within Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, but which extended into County Cavan in the Republic of Ireland in 2008. There are currently (2020) four transnational UNESCO Global Geoparks in the world, all of which for the present, are in Europe:
- Karawanken / Karavanke UNESCO Global Geopark (Austria & Slovenia)
- Muskau Arch / Łuk Mużakowa UNESCO Global Geopark (Germany & Poland);
- Novohrad-Nógrád UNESCO Global Geopark (Hungary & Slovakia), and;
- Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark (Ireland & United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
These are territories where the political boundaries set by people have not been considered as a limitation for the definition of the Geoparks territory, Geoparks where the geological boundaries do not match the boundaries drawn by people. In these particular areas, to tell the geological history in a consistent way there was a need to transpose the territory boundaries. The creation of transnational UNESCO Global Geoparks is actively supported by UNESCO, since it is an effective way to connect people of different countries, creating a shared heritage, something to be proud of together, and moreover promoting regional, cross-border co-operation.
Through the creation of these strong links between different countries, it works as a tool for peace-building. The first transnational UNESCO Global Geopark, the Marble Arch Caves, located across the border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, in a former conflict area, is considered as a global model for community cohesion and peace-building.
Whilst the development of transnational Geoparks is to be applauded, aspiring transnational Geoparks need to consider the challenges of managing such a territory with possibly different governmental and legal requirements. It is recommended that contact is made with other transnational Geoparks at an early stage to understand potential problems and identify solutions to move the application process forward.
4. Collaborative Projects
A critical component of any Geopark’s activities is to invest in local, national and transnational co-operation in order to develop effective solutions to shared socio-economic problems, supporting regional sustainable development, which can be achieved by establishing partnerships to apply for funding. For example, European Geoparks have, with the support of European Union, actively engaged in initiatives for transnational cooperation between rural areas in Europe, such as INTERREG and LEADER.
Annually, several common events are organised by the European and Global Geoparks Networks, including:
- Geotourism activities
- Educational activities for universities and schools
- Promotional activities and promotional tools
4.a European Geoparks Week
An important focus for all Geoparks in the EGN is European Geoparks Week, an annual Europe–wide festival of Geoparks with the purpose of raising public awareness of geo-conservation and the promotion of geological heritage, coordinated and promoted in the same week across the whole European Network. All Geoparks are required to develop a programme of public events during this week
4.b Tourism Fairs
The GGN participates every year in international tourism fairs such as ITB Berlin and Fitur Madrid, promoting Geoparks in the global tourism market. The main goal of GGN’s participation is to underline that UNESCO Global Geoparks provide an international framework for co-operation and broad stakeholder engagement on shared and sustainable outcomes related to tourism, tying sustainability together with community pride and benefit, economic development and new employment as well as geological, natural and cultural heritage conservation. The participation of the Geoparks is common and includes the presentation of individual exhibits, new brochures and local products in a special stand.
Various tools are currently being used to make sure the GGN gets the publicity it needs, including:
- the GGN Newsletter, providing information on GGN activities as well as the activities of the individual UNESCO Global Geoparks;
- the GGN Website for communication with its members and general public;
- the GGN Brochure which provides the GGN map and members list and is distributed in GGN and UNESCO events and Tourism Fairs.
All Geoparks are encouraged to contribute to these publications to highlight their own Geopark experiences, delivery of specific projects and the outcomes of research and collaborations.
Geoparks are expected to work together to mutual advantage and to the advantage of the wider network. Within Europe, most Geoparks have co-operated in one or more EU-funded Interreg projects in recent years.
5. Joining the GGN – Geopark Evaluation and revalidation
Ensuring high quality standards for UNESCO Global Geoparks
5.a Aspiring Geopark Evaluation
In order to achieve high quality standards, all new applications from aspiring Geoparks go through an evaluation procedure. Many countries utilise their existing UNESCO structures in the first instance. For example, in the UK, the UK Committee for UNESCO Global Geoparks (UKCUGGp) members evaluate UK applications and advise and mentor new aspiring geoparks with the aim to ensure that the aspiring Geopark functions as a de facto Global Geopark. If your country does not have a Global Geoparks Committee, then the UNESCO Global Geoparks Secretariat at UNESCO Headquarters coordinates the proposal submissions and is ready to provide advice.
It should be remembered that only two “active” applications are allowed in the system from any one country in any year. An application is considered “active” upon receipt of the dossier by the UNESCO Secretariat and ceases to be active once a final decision is made regarding its designation as a UNESCO Global Geopark, or if the application is withdrawn or suspended. Therefore a new aspiring Geopark can only submit an application to UNESCO when a slot is freed by another Geopark either through acceptance by UNESCO or through withdrawal from the process.
As a result of this process, Aspiring Geoparks should work with their National Committee to prepare in the first instance an Expression of Interest so that the potential future application for Global Geoparks status can be recorded. The Essential Questions section of this Toolkit will provide core information you will need to submit the Expression of Interest.
Once the process is underway, you will need to prepare the full application application dossier using this Toolkit as a guide to show the some of information you need to include. Once the dossier is complete, and the national Geoparks committee (such as UKCUGGp) is satisfied, the application is then submitted via the National UNESCO office to the UNESCO headquarters office in Paris.
Remember, as well as the application dossier, there should be an explicit endorsement of the Geopark submission by any relevant local and regional authorities and a letter of support from the National Commission for UNESCO or the government body in charge of relations with UNESCO.
Further details about submission and the documents required are available on the UNESCO Global Geoparks Application website.
Once received by the UNESCO secretariat the completed application dossier will be assessed in the first instance through a desktop evaluation. There will also be two evaluators assigned from a pool of Geoparks experts within the GGN to undertake a field mission. The evaluators are responsible for assessing the application on-site and discussing it with the relevant national and local authorities, stakeholders and local communities. They also provide recommendations on the integrity and future management of the Aspiring Geopark, strengthening the success of the application in the long term. After completing the field evaluation mission, a report is prepared by the evaluators and submitted to the UNESCO Secretariat, which then makes the report available to the Council for review and decision.
From submission to acceptance can take around 18 months to two years to complete. Typical timelines for UNESCO Global Geopark proposals and evaluation procedure are:
- Aspiring UNESCO Global Geopark sends a letter of intent, ideally by 1 July
- Submission of applications between 1 October and 30 November
- Verification check on completeness of documents after 1 December
- Desktop evaluations until 30 April (following year)
- Field evaluation missions starting 1 May
- Recommendations on applications by the UNESCO Global Geoparks Council in September
- Decision by the Executive Board of UNESCO during its spring session
5.b Existing Geopark Revalidation
To ensure the continuing high quality of UNESCO Global Geoparks within the IGGP (International Global Geoparks Programme), the status of each UNESCO Global Geopark is subject to a strict revalidation procedure every four years. For the revalidation procedure the UNESCO Global Geopark under review has to prepare a two-part progress report (see a sample here in pdf format) which is submitted to UNESCO together with a revalidation visit made by two evaluators nominated by UNESCO and the regional network from two other Geoparks to assess progress since the date of entry into the Network or since the last revalidation. The forms and field visit will evaluate the progress in geo-conservation and promotion of the geological heritage within the Geopark as well as the development of sustainable economic activity within the territory. The Geopark’s degree of active participation in the life of the regional and global networks (e.g. attendance at meetings and participation in common projects) are also taken into account. To provide clarity to the process UNESCO will give the Geopark being revalidated the decision of a green, yellow or red card following assessment of its self-report and the report based upon the revalidation visit:
i) The “Green Card” is awarded if the UNESCO Global Geopark continues to fulfil all the criteria and has made a significant progress in the key areas, ensuring the maintenance of the UNESCO Global Geopark label for a further four-year period.
ii) The “Yellow Card” means that insufficient efforts have been done by the Geopark in one or more areas and the management body will be informed of the need to take appropriate steps within a period of one or two years, after which a further revalidation will be carried out to check progress.
iii) The “Red Card” may be issued if:
- after the attribution of a “Yellow Card”, the Geopark has not addressed the issues raised by the yellow card by the end of the two-year period;
- the EGN CC determines that the Geopark has been inactive over four years and has not made any progress in contributing to the work of the network.
A red card means that the territory has areas of major concern that have not been dealt with my the management body and as a consequence that Geopark will lose its status as a UNESCO Global Geopark as well as its membership of the Global Geoparks Network and regional network such as the EGN and APGN. However, the Geopark will still be able to re-apply for membership in the normal manner submitting a new application. However, the re-applying Geopark may have to wait in line with other new aspiring Geoparks. The revalidation process has shown impressive results in keeping a high quality of operation and in encouraging Geoparks to improve their infrastructure and services.
The revalidation procedure entails the making of recommendations to the Geopark being assessed and even those with a ‘strong’ green card can expect to receive some recommendations. Recommendations are intended not only to help the Geopark address any minor or major shortcomings, but to consider where additional improvements might also be made.
6. Case Studies
The case studies showcase Geopark-based activities within the wider network of Geoparks.
- Case Study 1, from Marble Arch Caves Geopark shows how the development of a transnational Geopark can better explain the geological features within a Geopark, and in a socio-economic context, build valuable relations across borders.
- Case Study 2, from Azores Geopark highlights the opportunities for networking and relationship building at one of the European Geoparks Network conferences.
- Case study 3, from Azores Geopark shows how Portuguese Geoparks have worked together to develop a common resource.