The IUGS was founded in 1961 and is a Scientific Union member of the International Council for Science (ICSU), which it recognizes as the coordinating body for the international organization of science. Currently geologists from 117 countries are represented through a national (and regional) organizations.
IUGS promotes and encourages the study of geological problems, especially those of world-wide significance, and supports and facilitates international and interdisciplinary cooperation in the earth sciences. 
The Union's Secretariat is currently located at Geological Survey of Norway (NGU) in Trondheim, Norway.
On December 22, 2005, the 60th Session of the United Nations General Assembly ratified the International Year of Planet Earth for 2008. IUGS and UNESCO initiated the programme to establish this UN Year which celebrates Earth Sciences.
IUGS is a joint partner with Unesco for the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) and involved with the Unesco Geopark Network.
The Ministry of Land and Resources in Beijing, China, produces and distributes the Union's quadrennial journal entitled Episodes, as well as providing editorial support. The Geological Society of London oversees the production and distribution of IUGS Publications.