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Nurturing the democratic debate.  
UNESCO lauches the world's largest encyclopedia on sustainable development

28-08-2002 10:00 pm Johannesburg/Paris - UNESCO will launch the largest and most comprehensive encyclopedia ever published on sustainable development on September 3, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. With contributions from more than 5,000 scientists, this Internet-based resource will be regularly updated and made available for free to universities in the least developed countries. It aims to provide the knowledge base required for sustainable development in all its myriad aspects, from ecological issues to human security.

The Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS) is the result of an unprecedented global effort and a decade of planning. Never before has an encyclopedia gone beyond ecological sciences to cover all aspects of sustainable development. EOLSS is the only series to comprehensively examine the origins and threats facing all the systems that support life on Earth - from the climate to the world's oceans, forests, water cycle and atmosphere. The contributions offer step-by-step explanations on how to apply the abstract or pure sciences such as mathematics , to assess environmental pollution or to predict food consumption patterns. However, technical solutions alone won't resolve the current ecological crisis. EOLSS therefore covers a diverse range of social issues - from international human rights law and poverty eradication to the psychology of religion.

The leading experts who have contributed to this state-of-the-art publication come from diverse fields such as: the natural sciences (like chemistry and biology); social sciences (such as history, economics, law and psychology); humanities, and engineering. EOLSS also deals with interdisciplinary subjects, like earth and atmospheric sciences, environmental economics as well as the most effective approaches for managing natural resources like non-renewable energies, biodiversity, and agriculture.

This approach is critical for managing life on Earth. The global water crisis, for example, cannot be resolved by a single discipline. The most experienced civil engineer responsible for constructing dams and mapping the flows of rivers may have little knowledge on tapping groundwater sources, which offer tremendous potential provided that the proper safeguards are taken. EOLSS provides not only the technical information required but critical analyses on the economics and politics involved in managing such a resource.

"The Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems is different from traditional encyclopedias. It is the result of an unprecedented world-wide effort that has attempted to forge pathways between disciplines in order to address contemporary problems," said UNESCO Director-General Ko´chiro Matsuura,. "A source-book of knowledge that links together our concern for peace, progress, and sustainable development, the EOLSS draws sustenance from the ethics of science and the culture of peace. At the same time, it is a forward-looking publication, designed as a global guide to professional practice, education, and heightened social awareness of critical life support issues. In particular, the EOLSS presents perspectives from regions and cultures around the world, and seeks to be free from geographic, racial, cultural, political, gender, age, or religious bias."

EOLSS is designed to be a guide and reference for a wide range of users: from natural and social scientists to engineers, economists, educators, university students and professors, conservationists, entrepreneurs, law and policy-makers. The aim is not merely to provide raw information but to serve as a kind of expert advisor. The various chapters are divided into different levels of specialization to cater to a diverse readership. General readers might turn to EOLSS for summaries on nuclear energy, for example, while university students may focus more on explanations of the theoretical principles of nuclear energy, and policy-makers turn to the future perspectives and related recommendations.

"Our best hopes for future peace and global security rely upon strengthened international cooperation to protect the web of life support systems that we destroy, so ridiculously, day in and day out. We share only one planet. We - and future generations - have nowhere else to go," according to Dr. Mostafa K. Tolba, formerly Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme and the editor of a related EOLSS series of two printed volumes. "It is hoped that the encyclopedia will provide the necessary impetus and knowledge support to enable humanity to choose the right direction to move towards sustainable development."

The project is coordinated by a joint committee between UNESCO and EOLSS Publishers, which is based in Oxford (United Kingdom) and has provided the sponsorship. Teams of experts will regularly update the various sections on the Internet, making EOLSS a "living library and a site for action rather than just a publication," according to Mustafa El Tayeb, secretary of the UNESCO-EOLSS joint committee. The encyclopedia already contains about 25 million words, equivalent to about 50,000 standard pages, and several thousand tables, graphics, boxes and photographs. Within the next two years, it will mature to its full size of about 70 million words (equivalent to about 150 volumes) through new editions and regular updates as often as once every three months.

"Most United Nations projects of this size begin by consulting government representatives. But EOLSS went straight to the scientific communities involved," said Andras Szollosi-Nagy, a member of the joint committee and Director of UNESCO's International Hydrological Programme. In 1996, thousands of scientists, engineers and policy-makers began meeting just to define the scope of the project, before discussing the details of the contributions. Regional workshops were held in Washington DC, Tokyo, Moscow, Mexico City, Beijing, Panama, Abu Sultan (Egypt) and Kuala Lumpur to develop lists of possible subjects and debate analytical approaches for treating them.

"From the start, we had to be absolutely certain that one school of thought did not dominate the conceptual basis of the encyclopedia," said Mr Szollosi-Nagy. "This democratic process guided every step in the encyclopedia's development. With thousands of authors from more than 100 countries, the editors have set up a self-regulating mechanism to assure that the subjects are not dominated by Western world views."

Access to the EOLSS is by subscription, via the website http://www.eolss.net. Subscription rates will vary, depending on the nature of the applicant. Universities from the UN list of Least Developed Countries will have free access for one year, renewable subject to the submission of annual reports on educational and research activity. These universities are invited to sign an agreement on the website and submit it to UNESCO for endorsement. Likewise, disadvantaged individuals registered through charitable organizations will be given free access for one year.

Universities and public libraries will be charged US$3000 for two years while individuals will be asked to pay US$300 for the same period. Governments and corporations will pay slightly higher rates which will, nevertheless, be significantly lower than those of commercial publications.

EOLSS covers roughly 200 themes, each managed by an internationally recognized expert in the field. Each theme comprises an overview chapter of about 30 pages that is addressed to the general reader. This is followed by five to eight "topic level chapters", of about 20 pages, intended for university students specializing in the field. Every topic includes another five to eight articles on the latest advances and findings in the subject, as well as indications of future trends.

Knowledge for Sustainable Development - An Insight into the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, addressing major themes for the general reader, will also be available at the Summit. It is published by UNESCO and Eolss Publishers, in hard copy format in three volumes.

The official launch of EOLSS will take place on September 3, at Ubuntu Village, Dwarf Natal Plum Room at 11.00 a.m. An on-going demonstration will also be available at the EOLSS stand beside the UNESCO exhibition at Ubuntu Village.

Contact: Amy Otchet
Bureau of Public Information,
In Johannesburg, cell phone: (+27) (0)828 580 718
email: a.otchet@unesco.org

Isabelle Le Fournis, Bureau of Public Information,
Cell phone: (+33) (0) 614 6953 72
email: i.le-fournis@unesco.org

Website: For Further information - EOLSS page

Source Press Release No.2002-54

 ID: 5636 | guest (Read) Updated: 12-11-2002 5:26 pm | © 2003 - UNESCO - Contact