How can Geoparks contribute to the promotion of sustainable development?
This may seem like a rhetorical question, but sustainable development is a concept with many interpretations, so a definition is needed, i.e. “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.There is no better opportunity to answer this question than an international conference at which all of the conditions are in place to discuss a common strategy at a level that is able to reach beyond the geographic boundaries of the various areas to be protected.
This discussion would require some deeper thought into what it means to be a Geopark. The Global Geopark Network (GGN), which arose within the UNESCO Geopark program, has a twofold objective: both to increase the value of the various sites, which provide a fundamental testament to Earth’s geological history and evolution, and to provide opportunities for socio-economic development. In 2004, UNESCO included among its efforts the idea that a Geopark should combine the goals of protecting geological heritage and promoting sustainable economic growth.
As such, Geoparks find themselves having to face the eternal dilemma of any protected area, that of the conflict of economic growth and environmental conservation which primarily revolves around the tourism industry.
Within the overall landscape of the Global Geoparks, we find a wide range of issues related to their socio-economic “calling”, and one might wonder where the point of equilibrium between conservation and economic growth lies, how far we can push to attract tourism before having to push the brakes of ecology, what conditions need to be accepted in order to be innovative mechanisms of economic growth and employment, and how we must respond to the expectations of residents, public officials, and tourists without losing site of the core aspect of the work of a Geopark, that of sustainability.
Certain Geoparks lie within territories in which there was already a thriving tourist industry and come onto the scene offering an alternative form of tourism. As such, they find themselves in a situation of established wellbeing in which the local communities are used to taking full advantage of their resources in a manner that promotes their economy and so see alternative forms as a sort of economic regression. Other Geoparks, conversely, need to establish new forms of tourism out of nothing and find themselves having to deal with the expectations of the local communities, which see these parks as sources of economic wellbeing.
The engagement and economic education of the local communities remain the keys for Geoparks to serve as innovative mechanisms of geoconservation, geotourism, and local sustainable development.
The tools, conditions and ideas are there, so now it is important to think hard about the role Geoparks can play in pursuing sustainable development and about the synergies to be established with the host communities.
At the Adamello-Brenta UNESCO Global Geopark, being committed to promoting sustainable development means being able to protect the integrity of the environment while carefully promoting the park’s heritage. The Geopark’s territory possesses a keen focus on tourism and features areas of mature tourism, such as Madonna di Campiglio, Pinzolo, Folgarida–Marilleva, Andalo and Molveno, which provide major lodging capacity for the Trentino region’s entire tourism industry. As such, the Geopark is managed in such a way as to balance the need not to lose sight of the importance of the environmental landscape of these highly popular areas with that of promoting tourism to the outlying areas through the environment as well as through local traditions, culture and history.
Engagement has always been seen as crucial requirement in achieving this goal.
Hence our support of the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism, which led, in 2006, to the definition of a common strategy for the development of tourism for all of the park’s towns and actors, which has already completed STAGE 2. Out of this process came a great many ideas, including projects that have taken on European-level importance, such as Dolomiti di Brenta Bike & Trek, two circuits around Brenta for cyclists or hikers, or the trails along the front lines in Adamello from World War I, which were created in conjunction with the hundred-year anniversary of the war in order to keep the memory of this great tragedy alive.
Another important opportunity for economic growth and environmental awareness comes by way of “Qualità Parco”, the mark of park quality assigned to the tourism businesses that meet specific standards of environmental protection. This project is being developed as a means of providing businesses within the park with a major partner that can give them greater visibility and opportunities such as the promotion of tourism, custom gadgets, and access to specific training and other activities.
The Geopark has implemented a sustainability plan that, over the years, has demonstrated how it can play a truly significant role both in the management of the territory and in promoting new mechanisms for the development of tourism. Within this context, it also serves as a test bed of best practice in sustainability where anyone with a good idea for development can find opportunities for experimentation.