The Precautionary Principle
The United Nations convened conferences in 1972, 1982 and 1992 leading to commitments to the so-called Precautionary Principle -
- Activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; their proponents shall demonstrate that expected benefits outweigh potential damage to nature, and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed (11b, World Charter of Nature, 1982).
- Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation (Principle 15, Rio Declaration, 1992).
- Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures, taking into account that policies and measures to deal with climate change should be cost-effective so as to ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost (Article 3. Framework Convention on Climate Change)
We can also identify the evolution of associative principles to the Precautionary Principle including:
- Ecological Footprint - reducing the impact of human activity on the ecosystem.
- Anticipatory Principle - a preventive approach is crucial to avoid irreversible environmental degradation and to recognise that in many cases mitigation is not only costly but often impossible.
- Reverse Onus Principle - where the onus of proof shifts from the opponents of an intervention having to demonstrate harm to the proponents of an intervention having to demonstrate safety.
There are obvious implications in what our response should be to the probabilities and possibilities of future climate change resulting from humanity’s activities.