Geodiversity, World Heritage and IUCN

Geodiversity refers to the variety of the geological and physical elements of nature, such as minerals, rocks, soils, fossils and landforms, and active geological and geomorphological processes. Together with biodiversity, geodiversity constitutes the natural diversity of planet Earth.

World Heritage geological site Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Viet Nam Photo: IUCN / Josephine Langley

IUCN’s advisory role on World Heritage and geodiversity

The 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention has recognised geodiversity from the outset of its work and is the longest standing global instrument for geodiversity conservation. As a founding organisation of the Convention and as its adviser on nature, IUCN has held the longest consistent role in geodiversity conservation science and practice of any global organisation.

Under the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, criterion (vii) determines “Outstanding Universal Value” (OUV, which confers a site World Heritage status) based on geological values. Sites nominated under this criterion (vii):

“(viii) be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.”

As of October 2022, there are 93 World Heritage sites currently listed under criterion (viii), including iconic places such as the Galápagos Islands, Yellowstone National Park, Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, and the Namib Sand Sea. In undertaking its work on World Heritage, IUCN cooperates with a range of international specialist organisations focused on Earth Science, including the International Union of Geological Sciences, the International Association of Geomorphologists and the International Union of Speleology.

Related IUCN Resolutions and areas of work

IUCN’s interest in geodiversity management and in geoheritage conservation (known as geoconservation) has increased in the last decade.

IUCN Members, who include government and civil society organisations, have adopted resolutions in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2021 calling on the global conservation community to support the protection and management of the world’s geodiversity and geoheritage.

WCC 2020 Res 074: Geoheritage and protected areas

WCC 2016 Res 083: Conservation of moveable geological heritage

WCC 2012 Res 048: Valuing and conserving geoheritage within the IUCN Programme 2013–2016

WCC 2008 RES 040: Conservation of geodiversity and geological heritage

Geodiversity and geoconservation are also relevant to IUCN policies and strategies, and contribute to many of IUCN’s areas of work such as: climate change, ecosystem management, environmental law, protected areas, science and knowledge, water, and World Heritage.

Geodiversity is an important consideration in the priorities set by the IUCN Programme 2021-2025. Geodiversity and geoconservation contribute to achieving the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They provides society with diverse benefits based on regulating, supporting, provisioning, and cultural services.

Find out more on geodiversity through the ProGEO leaflet.

IUCN’s support for UNESCO Global Geoparks

IUCN has had a long-standing role supporting the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network since its establishment in 2004, and is a non-voting member of the UNESCO Global Geoparks Council, which is responsible for governing UNESCO’s International Geoscience and Geoparks Programme. In 2015, areas designated as part of the network gained a higher status of recognition, following a decision to recognise them fully as “UNESCO Global Geoparks”.

Today the world counts 177 Global Geoparks in 46 countries. They include areas with geological featuresheritage of international significance, which have no formal legal protection and are rather conserved through a bottom-up, community-led approach.

IUCN WCPA Geoheritage Specialist Group

In 2013, a Geoheritage Specialist Group was created under IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN-WCPA). The group provides specialist advice on all aspects of geodiversity in relation to protected areas and their management.

Since 2015, IUCN’s “Protected Area Governance and Management” handbook contains a chapter on geoconservation. The specialist group is now preparing a 'Best Practice Guideline on Geoheritage Conservation in Protected Areas' and has updated IUCN thematic studies on World Heritage Volcanoes, as well as World Heritage geology.

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