Alternative - Geology for Sustainable Development - Iain Stewart

Most geologists would agree that Earth science knowledge, experience, and guidance is critical for tackling many of society’s most acute planetary concerns, however, few geologists are directly involved in delivering on sustainable development goals and geoscience education rarely addresses this issue.

So, how can global geoscience better rise to the energy, resource, and environmental challenges of the coming decades?

In February 2019, UNESCO’s Earth Sciences Secretariat approved a 5-year research networking project on ‘Geology for Sustainable Development’ (project 685) – GeoSD, for short.UNESCO is the only United Nations organization with a mandate to support research and capacity-building in geology and geophysics, and the International Geoscience Programme is its flagship international engagement platform.
A key mission of GeoSD is to champion the role and contribution of geoscience in helping UNESCO address the pressing challenges of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Although Earth science expertise can inform and guide practical action across all the UN SDGs, the principal themes of geoscientific input are in the broad resource development areas of Energy, Minerals, and Water, and in the acute societal threats of climate change and disaster risk.Also, in support of the UNESCO Earth Sciences’ parallel Global GeoParks programme, in GeoSD we focus attention on the promotion of local geodiversity and geoheritage for community-centred economic development and sustainable tourism.
Geology for Sustainable Development
Geology for Sustainable Development

Our work and our research questions

With few geoscientists directly engaged in decision-making around what a sustainable future for humanity will look like, the GeoSD project confronts this apparent disconnect between the geoscientific and policy arenas.

Integrating the experience of Earth science practitioners across a range of fields, we explore how geoscience and geoscientists are addressing societal challenges at the local, regional and global scales.

The work brings together an international interdisciplinary network of academic researchers, industry professionals and geoscience educators to address three fundamental questions.

1. What are the geoscientific principles and practices that underpin contemporary notions of ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’?

2. What are the current sustainability-related practices in real-world sectors of geo-resources, geo-energy, and infrastructure construction that improve livelihoods and build wellbeing?

3. How might these ‘sustainable geoscience’ practices be integrated into education and training, and how can the work of ‘social geology’ be more effectively communicated for publics and policy?

Through these three intertwined areas of scientific inquiry we aim to establish a common framework by which geoscientists can more effectively inform wise decision-making about our planet, and our society’s, future.

IGCP - Geology for Sustainable Development
IGCP - Geology for Sustainable Development
IGCP - Geology for Sustainable Development

Events, workshops, and other activities

Future activities

  • Sustainable Geoscience – a one-day workshop, Convenors: Vimal Singh (University of Delhi, India) and Iain Stewart (University of Plymouth, UK), University of Delhi (29 February 2020).
  • Road Maps for a Sustainable Energy Future session at Energy Opportunities 2020 conference, Convenors: Denise Cox (AAPG) and Iain Stewart (University of Plymouth, UK), Mexico City (22–23 September 2020).

Past activities

During 2019, IGCP project 685 financially supported early-career geoscientists from a range of developing and developed countries to attend, engage with, and contribute to sustainable geoscience sessions at the following international events:

  • UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals, UN Headquarters, New York, USA (14–15 May).
  • Geological Mapping in Andean Geoparks field school , Torotoro Andean Geopark, Bolivia (22 July – 1 August).
  • Encuentro de Sostenibilidad y Energía / Energy and Sustainability Summit, Cartagena, Columbia (11–12 December).

Director, Sustainable Earth Institute / UNESCO Chair in Geoscience and Society
University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK

Denise M. COX
President, Storm Energy, 702 Bunkers Cove Road, Panama City, FL, 32401, USA

Joel C. GILL
British Geological Survey / Geology for Global Development,
Nicker Hill, Keyworth, NG12 5GG, UK

Geological Survey Division, Mineral Resources Authority, PO Box 1906, Port Moresby 121, National Capital District, PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Deputy Director – Geo-information, Geological Survey of Namibia,
Ministry of Mines and Energy, P.O. Box 3984, Windhoek, NAMIBIA

Instituto de Geociencias da UFRGS,
Departamento de Paleontologia e Estratigrafia, Av. Bento Gonçalves, 9.500 – Prédio 43.127, 91501-970, Porto Alegre, BRAZIL

Science Director | National Geosequestration Laboratory
CSIRO, Australian Resources Research Centre, 26 Dick Perry Avenue, Kensington, WA 6151 AUSTRALIA

Institute of Geophysics, UNAM National University of Mexico, Laboratorio de Paleoceanografía y Paleoclimas, Circuito Exterior de Cd. Universitaria S/N, 04510, Mexico City, MEXICO
Email: perezcruz@igeofí

Further resources related to ‘Geology for Sustainable Development’


Geology for Global Development 
Society of Exploration Geophysics – Geoscientists Without Borders
Tomorrow’s Cities Urban Disaster Risk Transitions Hub 


  • Gill, J.C., 2016. Building good foundations: Skills for effective engagement in international development, in Wessel, G.R., and Greenberg, J.K., eds., Geoscience for the Public Good and Global Development: Toward a Sustainable Future: Geological Society of America Special Paper 520, p. 1–8.
  • Gill, J.C., 2017. Geology and the sustainable development goals. Episodes, 40(1), pp.70-76.
  • Gill, J.C. and Bullough, F., 2017. Geoscience engagement in global development frameworks. Annals of Geophysics, 60.
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  • Schrodt, F., Bailey, J.J., … Gill, J., Stewart, I., 2019. Opinion: To advance sustainable stewardship, we must document not only biodiversity but geodiversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116, 16155-16158.
  • Stewart, I.S. 2016. Sustainable geoscience. Nature Geoscience, 9 (April), 262.
  • Stewart, I. 2020. Geology for Society: Earth science for sustainable development. In: Humanist Futures: Perspectives from UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks on the futures of education. Paris, UNESCO.
  • Stewart, I. S., & Gill, J.C. 2017. Social Geology - integrating Earth science into sustainable development. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 128(2), 165-172.