International geoscientific unions (geounions) have been coordinating and promoting international efforts in Earth and space sciences since the beginning of the 20th century. Thousands of scientists from many nations and specific scientific disciplines have developed ways of cooperation through international unions and learned how to work together to promote basic geosciences. The unions have been initiating, developing, and implementing international cooperative programmes, setting scientific standards, developing research tools, educating and building capacity, and contributing to science for policy. This paper analyses the role of geounions in and their added value to the promotion of geoscience internationally in the arena of the existing and emerging professional societies of geoscientists. The history of the geounions and the development of international cooperation in geosciences are reviewed in the paper in the context of scientific and political changes over the last century. History is considered here to be a key element in understanding and shaping the future of geounions. Scientific and organisational aspects of their activities, including cooperation with international and intergovernmental institutions, are analysed using the example of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). ... mehrThe geounions’ activities are compared to those of professional societies. Future development of scientific unions and their role in the changing global landscape of geosciences are discussed.