35th International Geological Congress (IGC) opens the door to a brighter future for all.

A sustainable, prosperous future is in our grasp and the geosciences hold the key. That was the defining message of the 35th session of the IGC, which took place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) last week.

At the forefront of this trend is the PanAfGeo initiative, a collaboration between the Organisation of African Geological Surveys (OAGS) and EuroGeoSurveys.

The launch comes in the wake of the first-of-its kind PanAfGeo feasibility study. Spanning two years and covering 25 African countries, the study evaluated geoscientific knowledge and skills in African geological surveys. Several industry challenges were uncovered, notably a lack of staff training and advanced equipment, as well as a tendency for geological surveys to neglect environmental aspects such as natural hazards, groundwater and soils.

The surveys offer the chance to translate enhanced geoscientific knowledge and skills offered by the surveys into direct economic benefit and help make countries healthier.

PanAfGeo will focus on policy governance and communication; it will enable African governments to collaborate on the geological plane.

Greg Botha, secretary general of the 35th IGC, fully endorses the initiative. “The industry in Africa is something to get excited about. There is so much potential. The official launch of the PanAfGeo demonstrates what can be achieved when international bodies work together.”

Another aspect of sustainable geoscience that came under the spotlight was the UNESCO Geoparks concept.

These are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. However, much more needs to be done for South Africa to realise its full geotourism potential.

“South Africa has many potential geoheritage sites within the country that can be of interest in a Geopark context,” says Craig Smith, executive manager at the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA). “Yet, very few geological sites are protected or conserved and known to the public. Many of the world-class geoheritage sites in this country suffer from neglect due to a lack of funding or concern. Consequently, they are poorly marketed and sometimes inaccessible. What we have is expert local knowledge on many geoheritage sites and the drive to make this knowledge available. What we lack is national coordination to promote the geoheritage sites and unity in the geoheritage community.  The GSSA recognizes the importance of geoheritage and geotourism, but there are many other stakeholders.”

Richard Viljoen, Co-President of the 35th IGC, agrees: “Geoheritage is one of the key focus areas of the 35th IGC. An important project in this regard has been the production of a special commemorative volume entitled “Africa’s Top Geological Sites”: it will provide a background for the development of an African Geoparks Network. As part of its effort to promote South African geotourism, the IGC also offered 34 field trips to important geological sites. This week, we have more than 20 field trips taking place to, among others, the chrome and platinum layers of the Bushveld Complex, the Kruger National Park, the volcanoes of the Rift valley in Tanzania, as well as the great train safari from Cape Town to Victoria Falls.

“All these initiatives are part of the legacy of the IGC and we are proud of what we have achieved,” Viljoen concludes.

For more information about the IGC visit http://www.35igc.org/. Join the 35th IGC Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/35thigc/.