Reflecting the increased worldwide interest in collaboration in the fields of protection and sustainable development of geological heritage (‘geoheritage’) through the promotion and construction of geoparks, the Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR), P.R.China , and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) jointly held the First International Conference on Geoparks in Beijing from June 27, 2004 to July 7, 2004.
The overall goal of this conference was to demonstrate that important geological or geo-morphological landscapes, like in “Geoparks”, might serve as excellent tools for educating the general public in geo-environmental matters. Gaining a healthy, sustainable economic development on a local and regional scale needs as a prerequisite also a better understanding and esteem of our geoheritage; to facilitate this, an increased dissemination of the geo-scientific knowledge has to be foreseen in order to teach and remind the people to cherish humanity's only living place (the earth).
In connection with the conference, the first “Lu Mountain Cup Guide Geological Knowledge Contest”, a contest of geoparks guides and geoscience knowledge took place. Its final stage was broadcasted on TV and was organized by the MLR and National Tourism Administration together just before the conference. The contest's purpose was to promote the holding of the conference, to enhance the public’s understanding of geoheritage protection, to boost the social consciousness of protecting geoheritage resources, and to deepen common public understanding of geoparks. At the same time, efficient and informative l public relations material was developed for each region, in order to trigger the interest in Earth sciences and promote the understanding that wise management of our Planet needs to be based upon education on science, including environmental sciences, Earth sciences and geoheritage. Visiting national geoparks should facilitate the process of learning and treatment of our vulnerable nature in a conscious manner.
Opening Ceremony of the Conference
On June 27, under the theme ofprotection and sustainable development of geoheritage, the First International Conference on Geoparks was ceremoniously opened in Beijing, China. Nearly 1000 representatives from 42 countries and regions attended the conference. Zeng Peiyan, Commissioner ofthe Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPC and Vice Prime Minister of State Council, offered his congratulations in a letter. Mr. Sun Wensheng, Minister of MLR and Honorary Chairman of Organization Committee of the First International Conference on Geoparks, Ms. Shou Jiahua,Vice Minister of MLR and Chairman of the Conference Organization Committee, Mr. Walter Erdelen, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences of UNESCO and Mr. W. Eder, Director of the Division of Earth Sciences of UNESCO, among other distinguished guests, also appeared at the opening ceremony.
At the opening ceremony, Minister Sun Wenshengprovided an opening speech. She pointed out that it was a common social responsibility to protect geoheritage resources, which needed collective efforts and coordinative actions on the part of UNESCO, international geology organizations, each governmental department, universities, institutes and all partners of the society. On behalf of UNESCO, Mr. Walter.Erdelen praised the Chinese activities in geoheritage protection and geopark construction. Walter Erdelen also granted the flag of the First International Conference on Geoparks to the Chairman of Conference Organization Committee----Ms. Shou Jiahua. Mr. W. Eder, on behalf of UNESCO’s Division of Earth Sciences, announced the 25 ‘Geoparks’ that have been inscribed in the first list of UNESCO’s ‘Global Network of National Geoparks’ (“World Geoparks Network”), including eight Chinese geoparks such as Lushan Mountain, and seventeen European geoparks, such as North Pennines. The ‘declaration’ was followed by a grand ‘plaque-granting ceremony’. As representative of the first group of members of the ‘World Geoparks Network’, Mr. Ouyang Quanhua, from China, Jiangxi, Lushan Mountain World Geopark, delivered his speech in which he expressed the confidence and determination to further protect endangered sites of rare geoheritage. At the opening ceremony, the Conference Organization Committee awarded honorary certificates and prizes to the guides who ranked top ten in the “Lu Mountain Cup Guide Geological Knowledge Contest”.
The Beijing Declaration on the Protection of the Geological Heritage of the World was an important result of the conference. At the opening ceremony, guests and representatives attending the conference signed the declaration expressing their own desire to protect geoheritage and to value the earth. Among the signers, there were older participants (with white hair), youth with elegance and talent, and lovely children, which composed an enthusiastic and inspiring scene. It has become a common wish across generations to protect geoheritage and cherish the living environment of humankind, namely the Earth.
After the opening ceremony , Minister Sun Wensheng, Mr. Walter R. Erdelen, Mr. W. Eder and other guests cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony of the exhibition of the First International Conference on Geoparks. Subsequently, guests and representatives visited the exhibition in high spirits.
81 geoparks took part in the exhibition that lasted three days andattracted nearly 3000 visitors. At the exhibition, fascinating geological landscapes and their respective scientific contexts fully exhibited the appealing charm of geoparks and showed each country’s fruits of geoheritage protection and geopark construction in recent years that arrested the interest of the general public. Numerous visitors asked for information and inquired about travel routes from participating institutions. The exhibition inspired people’s interest in local tourism.
The exhibition not only popularized and introduced beautiful natural scenery and the unique geological features of each geopark, but also provided relevant experts and administrators with a platform to investigate and discuss the protection and exploitation of geoparks, along with a chance to exchange experiences on protective measurements.
The exhibition aroused extensive public interest on the part of news media. Numerous reports informed in detail on the status and specific strategies of geoparks, covering all different aspects;this led to a tremendous effect as regards public relations and reflected excellently the social dimension of geoparks.
Unveiling Ceremony of Office of the “World Geoparks Network”
In the afternoon of June 27, UNESCO and MLR together celebrated the unveiling ceremony outside the gate of MLR. The following persons cut the ribbon and unveiled the plaque for Office of the “World Geoparks Network”: Leaders of MLR----Mr. Sun Wensheng, Mr. Lu Xinshe and Mr. Meng Xianlai; Officers of UNESCO----Mr. Walter R. Erdelen, Mr. Wolfgang Eder and Ms. Margarete Patzak; Officers of International Union of Geological Sciences（IUGS）----Mr. Ed deMulder, Mr. Peter Bobrowsky, Mr. W. Janoschek.
After the unveiling ceremony, guestspaid a visit to the office of the “World Geoparks Network” hosted by theInformation Center of Ministry of Land and Resources. They broadly discussed operational developments of the office, brought forward precious ideas and suggestions on the construction of the “World Geoparks Network”, on editing and publishing of the Newsletter of the “World Geoparks Network”, as well as other items.
From the afternoon of June 27 to June 28, the Conference Organization Committee organized thescientific meeting. Mr. W. Eder introduced the general situation of UNESCO’s “Global Geoparks Network” (World Geoparks Network). Mr. Jiang Jianjun, Director General of Department of Geological Environment, MLR, introduced the situation of the establishment and management of China's national geoparks. Experts from Greece, Ireland, Britain, Mexico, Canada and Malaysia respectively presented and discussed specific problems involving the construction and development of the European Geoparks Network, the coordination and cooperation between theWorld Natural & Cultural Heritage Sites and Geoparks, the obligation of international geological organizations to promote geoheritage, the involvement of American geoheritage and the prospects of American geoparks, as well as the potential creation of a geoparks network in Asia-Oceania. The meeting covered multiple themes including characteristics of regional geoheritage and their geological origins, protecting methods and technology for geoheritage, roles of geoparks in earth science popularization, geoheritage protection and development, and roles of geoparks and geoheritage in local economic sustainable development. Through exchanging experience in geoheritage protection and geparks construction of their own countries or regions, the experts exploredcommon approaches for the advancement of geoheritage protection, for the progress of geoparks construction, and for the promotion of sustainable development of local economy in different countries or regions.
Promotion Conference on Travel
In the morning of June 28, the novel “Promotion Conference on Geopark Travels” (this seems to be a better title) attracted a great number of people; nearly 100 people crowded the small conference place. The representatives from China's 8 geoparks reported on the geological background, geological landscape and other fundamental basics of their specific geoparks to the representatives of travel agencies. 21 travel agencies joined in the promotion conference. At the conference, each geopark presented and promoted its specificities, in order to widen the tourist source, and to increase its attraction as future travel site. After the conference, the China Association of Travel Services and Beijing Association of Travel Services convoked the signing ceremony with China's 8 geoparks and reached the consensus about the favorable policy of cooperation, which laid the foundation for a further win-win cooperation.
Speech Contest of College Students
In the afternoon of June 28, 10 college students from capital colleges were involved in the Speech Contest of College Students at the First International Conference on Geoparks. They were all pre-selected talents from multiple competitors through preliminary contests and semi-final contests. At the final contest, they introduced geoparks and expounded upon the relationship between geoparks and economic development. Their speeches embodied their own original opinions that kindled a surge of applause. The conference Organization Committee evaluated the wonderful speeches of these college students and awarded certificates and prizes to the winners.
Closing Ceremony of the Conference
In the afternoon of June 29, the three-day First International Conference on Geoparks came to an end. At the closing ceremony, Mr. W. Eder proclaimed two importantresults of the conference, which were :the “Constitution of the International Geoparks Conference “and the “Beijing Declaration on the Protection of the Geoheritage of the World”. At the conference, it was decided that the Second International Conference on Geoparks would be held in Northern Ireland in 2006. Then, Mr. Jiang Jianjun, Secretary General of the conference delivered the flag of the International Conference on Geoparks and relevant documents to Mr Patrick McKeever, representative from Northern Ireland----host country of the next International Conference on Geoparks. The conference part of the First International Conference on Geoparks was concluded successfully with a closing speech delivered by Ms. Shou Jiahua---- Chairman of Conference Organization Committee and Vice Minister of MLR.
Following the closing ceremony of the conference, more than 70 persons from nearly 20 countries and regions participated in four field trips, devoted respectively to the field survey of Chinese geoheritage protection activities, and the unveiling and inauguration of China's 8 geoparks inscribed in the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network.
The field survey was a key activity of this conference for which the Conference Organization Committee arranged well-prepared action plans with the help of geopark experts. Field TripGuides for four Geopark Survey Routes described the physiographic scenic spots, as well as the culturaland biological landscape highlights of each geopark in detail. The four routes were as follows:
First Route: Yuntai Mountain of Henan Province-Zhangjiajie of Hunan Province-Danxia Mountain of Guangdong Province;
Second Route: Song Mountain of Henan Province-Cuihua Mountain of Shannxi Province-Shilin of Yunnan Province;
Third Route: Lu Mountain of Jiangxi Province-Huangshan of Anhui Province;
Fourth Route: Wudalianchi of Helongjiang Province-Keshiketeng of Inner Mongolia.
During spare time during the field trips, each geopark organized particular folk cultural & artistic performances through which the members of survey group profoundly realized the significance of combining geopark construction and local culture development. Through this on-spot investigation, on the one hand the members of survey groups grasped the specific situation, the ‘status quo’ of the Chinese geoparks’ geo-scientific and economic construction, but on the other hand the Chinese participants learned a lot about the methods and experiences of other countries and regions in the way of geopark management through face-to-face intercommunication. As hoped (but also expected) by the Conference Organization Committee before the conference, the rich and colorful field survey completed the First International Conference on Geoparks successfully.