Dossier Océan et énergie - Énergie Thermique des Mers

Sommaire IOA News Letters

The UNESCO EOLSS Project : An Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems

Michel Gauthier
IOA Core Group chairman

On November 18, 1992, as part of the "United Nations Conference on Environment and Development" held in Brazil (sometimes referred to as the "Earth Summit"), the most eminent world scientists from 70 countries, including more than 100 Nobel Price Laureates, addressed an urgent warning to government leaders and citizens of all nations. That warning concerned the growing fragility of the Earth's life support systems. The warning said that "the environment is suffering critical stress. ...Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life--coupled with the environmental damage which is inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change--could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand." The warning also stressed that "no nation industrialised or not, can escape injury when global biological systems are damaged", and when lack of resources generates economic instabilities and conflicts. In its recommendation Agenda 21, the Conference declared that "the growth of population and production combined with unsustainable consumption patterns places increasingly severe stress on the life supporting capacities of our planet".

In that context, "life support systems" or LSS, are any natural or human-engineered systems that further life in the biosphere in a sustainable fashion. The fundamental common attribute of LSS is that, together, they provide all of the sustainable needs required for continuance of life. These needs, that go far beyond biological requirements, encompass natural environments as well as social components like safety, nutrition, medical care, economic standards, etc. Since its establishment, the IOA has contributed to reinforcing and disseminating the idea that OTEC and DOWA are potential significant components of LSS (see IOA Charter and Brochure; "Introduction to IOA", IOA Newsletter Vol 8, N 2, Page 6).

Since the "Earth Summit", many other international forums have contributed to the definition of LSS and raised awareness of the concept of sustainable development. The Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems(EOLSS)--a UNESCO project--that aims to present a comprehensive,authoritative, and integrated body of knowledge on Life Support Systems, is a major contribution to these efforts.

Features, structure and content of the EOLSS

EOLSS is divided into six subject areas:

Global Sustainable Development: focuses on wise use of resources and general policy to ensure intergenerational equity.

Water: covers all important aspects of this resource and includes consideration of the role of water in international relations.

Energy: covers all important aspects of energy resources, demand, conversion, conservation, impact, technologies, economics, and policies that affect energy supply, demand, and availability.

Environment: covers issues for the management of the Earth's physical, chemical and biological environment with a holistic approach to ecology.

Food and Agriculture: covers all important aspects of global demand, demographic impact, economy and policy for food security.

Knowledge Foundations: presents the essential sciences and technologies which must be integrated and used in a cohesive manner for the study and development of LSS. Includes relevant mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, economics, social and health sciences, etc.

Implication for IOA

To our knowledge, several IOA members have been solicited by EOLSS to write articles concerning OTEC. When expert authors and their contribution titles are officially announced by the EOLSS committee, IOA will transmit the information to the IOA community.

Most of the material used in this article is extracted from UNESCO EOLSS brochures. Documentation and details on EOLSS can be obtained on the World Wide Web at or from the EOLSS secretariat:

c/o Dr. K. Rosner
1, rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15, France
Fax : 33-1-45685820
mail :