FREE ELECTRONIC LIBRARY - Abstracts, online materials

Pages:   || 2 |

«The Precautionary Principle: A Barrier to Innovation and Progress? Paul Johnston & David Santillo Greenpeace Research Laboratories Discussion Paper ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

The Precautionary Principle:

A Barrier to Innovation and


Paul Johnston & David Santillo

Greenpeace Research Laboratories Discussion Paper 01/2006

September 2006


The Precautionary Principle: A Barrier to Innovation and Progress?

Paul Johnston & David Santillo

Greenpeace Research Laboratories

University of Exeter.


Precaution has become central to all environmental issue areas addressed by NGOs insofar as these call for either a Precautionary Approach or for strict application of the Precautionary Principle. The Precautionary Principle acts as the basis of a framework which, when translated and matured into specific precautionary approaches, can be practically implemented as a means of environmental management and protection.

The Precautionary Principle effectively reverses the burden of proof such that those proposing a given activity are placed in the position of having to assure that it will not cause environmental damage. This contrasts with a permissive regulatory approach (still common) where an activity is permitted until evidence of environmental damage emerges via monitoring activity or casual observation. Usually, of course, such damage is only belatedly identified, the type of damage may be totally unexpected and may even be effectively irreversible.

Because a precautionary approach to environmental protection contrasts with the more permissive environmental management regimes and is inevitably less libertarian, such an approach is often characterised as a barrier to science-based human progress and to innovation based on the sciences. Often it is simply portrayed as "unscientific". Those taking such a view tend to favour narrow risk based approaches where the available information is used to derive a (usually highly imperfect) probabilistic risk factor. This is generally expressed in the form: If Activity X goes ahead there is only a 10% chance of adverse environmental impact, or;

• There is no evidence that Activity X will cause adverse impact.

In many cases, however, risk-based approaches simply equate “absence of evidence” of an impact with “evidence of absence” of that impact. Moreover, all too often the absence of evidence flows simply from the limits of available scientific evaluation techniques when applied to the detection and quantification of hazards and risks. Over-reliance on absence of evidence for reassurance in decision-making is therefore clearly not a scientific approach. In fact, risk assessment is an actuarial or engineering technique which is all too easily misapplied in attempts to obtain predictive analyses within more complex and poorly defined natural systems. Extensive data-bases of information make it reasonably easy to predict the probability of, say, being killed in a road accident, or of the failure of a mechanical part. In fact, such statistics can generally be calculated directly from records of past experience.

The same is not true of damage to ecosystems where comparable detailed information simply does not exist. Furthermore, the identification of even a low risk of an accident or mechanical failure does not imply that further efforts to reduce or even eliminate the risk are not justified – quite the opposite. However, the much less empirical estimates of environmental risks are often taken as an expression of “acceptable” consequences of the pursuit or continuation of a certain activity or technology. These points have been stressed in various discussions of precaution in the published literature.

Accordingly, formulation and implementation of a precautionary approach to environmental protection

demand that:

• Serious or irreversible damage to ecosystems must be avoided in advance, both by preventing harm and avoiding the potential for harm.

2 GRL-DP-01-2006

• High quality scientific research is employed as a key mechanism for the early detection of actual or potential impacts

• Action to protect ecosystems is necessary (rather than only possible) even in the presence of uncertainty, ignorance and irreducible indeterminacy

• All future technical, social and economic developments implement a progressive reduction in environmental burden as compared to contemporary baselines.

What then becomes clear from the outset is that there can be no simple analytical, instrumental or institutional ‘fixes’ for the complexities encountered in the management of technological risks in relation to whole ecosystems. Moreover, while policy making must be based on the best available scientific information, science on its own is not enough. As stated in a recent EC funded study:There are a number of very practical and robust methods which are entirely consistent with the established procedures of risk assessment and which can be applied under a broader and more pluralistic precautionary approach, taking account of a variety of contending options and their associated benefits as well as their risks”.

Hence, rather than seeing ‘precaution’ as being in tension with ‘science-based regulation’, the key elements of a precautionary approach are entirely consistent with sound scientific practice in responding to intractable problems in risk assessment such as “ignorance” and “uncertainty”. This covers not only “What we know we don’t know” but also the more troublesome “What we don’t know that we don’t know”.

The precautionary philosophy (be it in principle or approach) has been broadly accepted in a number of international fora. These include inter alia the London Convention, OSPAR Convention (and HELCOM), EC Treaty, The UN Agreement on High Seas Fishing, the Barcelona Convention and the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. Precaution is increasingly a mainstream concept of environmental protection and regulation. Environmental management based on various applications of a precautionary approach is not only fully acceptable to the regulatory community, but is also the only acceptable instrumental device if widespread environmental degradation is to be effectively prevented.

In the case of hazardous substances, the emergent definitions of hazard (hazardous properties) coupled with a precautionary approach have led to numerous expressions of a “zero-emissions” approach. This is best exemplified by the Hazardous Substances Strategy under the OSPAR Convention, which enjoins contracting parties to adopt a target of cessation of discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances by the year 2020. The Stockholm Convention regulating POPs does so on the basis that ongoing production should be stopped and existing stockpiles destroyed. The new EU REACH chemical legislation as currently proposed is based upon elimination and substitution of hazardous chemicals unless they can be shown to be under adequate control, again a zero-emissions approach. More specifically and most recently, the European Commission has banned six phthalate plasticisers in certain childrens toys.

Three of these were regulated on the basis of their known properties, the other three on a precautionary basis.

OSPAR also enjoins signatory nations to move towards zero-emissions for radioactive substances.

At the time in the mid 1980’s that these types of regulatory measures were first discussed in detail, zerodischarge was regarded as a utopian ideal and precaution as an unscientific basis for regulation as compared to risk-assessment. The debate took some years to both evolve and resolve and, to some degree, remains polarised. However, it is increasingly widely accepted within the regulatory community that, for substances which present such hazardous properties that their continued presence and potential accumulation in the environment is inherently undesirable, the cessation of their manufacture, use and release to the environment is a reasonable, science-based precautionary approach.

It seems that the regulatory process evolving to deal with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) remains at a relatively early stage, comparable to the early debate on toxic substances. This is probably because those engaged in the debate on the industry side are largely unfamiliar with the way that chemical regulation has evolved and continues to develop and have not been part of this debate. Nevertheless, the 3 GRL-DP-01-2006 zero-emissions precautionary regulatory approach can also be applied to releases of GMOs (zero release).

Indeed, the joint Ministerial Meeting of the OSPAR and Helsinki Commissions adopted just such a zeroemissions approach to GM marine organisms in their declaration from 2003, stressing both the “inherent threat” presented by releases of such organisms and the need to apply the precautionary principle as the justification for their commitment:to ensure that the culture of genetically modified marine organisms is confined to secure, self-contained, land-based facilities in order to prevent their release to the marine environment”.

In the case of GMOs, such regulatory approaches are based to an even greater extent on a potential to cause harm rather than on knowledge of actual harm. In other words, the scientific justification for precaution is provided by the considerable uncertainties that exist about the impacts of their widespread release, coupled with the lack of scientific information to resolve these uncertainties, as opposed to defined hazardous properties. Interestingly, as the scientific research base develops and these potential impacts may be resolved into likely and actual impacts through defined pathways, so the empirical scientific basis for restricting their release may be consolidated and the initial application of a precautionary approach ever more clearly justified. In short, there is nothing inconsistent with science or the scientific process in the precautionary regulation of GMOs. It can in fact be argued that their early open release would have represented a perversion of standard scientific process.

Formulating a precautionary approach to protecting the planet from dangerous climate change is complicated, not least because the world is already committed to a certain level of impact as a result of greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution coupled with the inertia of climate systems. A further complication is the fact that the evaluation of potential impacts is unavoidably a predictive science dependent upon the output from highly complex computer driven climate models and their inherent uncertainties. These predictions can only be supported to a limited extent by observation of trends in the "real world" given the extended timeframes over which impacts are likely to become manifest. Currently, therefore, the overall objective is to restrict the rise in global mean temperatures to less than 2C above preindustrial levels. This is a precautionary target, taking into account that some level of committed change is already unamenable to intervention and, therefore, unavoidable. Furthermore, the use of a temperature target as opposed to an atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration target can be seen as more precautionary given the considerable current uncertainties surrounding climate sensitivity to raised atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Defining what constitutes a precautionary approach to achieve the stated precautionary target is, however, a more difficult task. While the precautionary (and, therefore, scientific basis) for chemical, radioactive substance and GMO release regulation is relatively clear cut, with an ultimate expression in “zeroemission”, a precautionary approach to the management of dangerous climate change is seen to be less clearly definable as such. This is in part due to remaining indeterminacies in human understanding of climate systems. Indeterminacies also create difficulties in defining a precautionary management regime for the exploitation of living resources (forests and fish). It is unrealistic to assume that forestry and fisheries will ever be universally stopped unless current management paradigms end in their total destruction. In short they will continue to be exploited and, beyond the prohibitive precautionary management regimes essential to maintenance of a sustainable network of marine reserves, there will be an ongoing need to define precautionary management regimes within which the level of exploitation is ecologically sustainable.

In applying precaution to the management of fisheries and forests, this has usually been done by applying “fudge factors” to the mathematically based models used in their management. A good example of such an approach is the RMP/RMS approach by the IWC where, essentially, fisheries models with an increased amount of “slop” are used to compensate for lack of certainty and lack of data. These modeled approaches are as vulnerable as the original, unmodified, models to unforeseen factors and are generally applied in such data-poor environments that it is often impossible to verify that assumed “precautionary” parameters are in fact any more conservative or protective than a simple default value.

4 GRL-DP-01-2006 An alternative approach is to define sustainability in a meaningful way and derive a precautionary framework from this which embraces the four points defining precaution raised in the text above. In this area it is important to distinguish between the justifiably maligned and largely discredited “maximum sustainable yield” (MSY) used in fisheries management and true ecological sustainability. Useful descriptors of ecological sustainability are provided by the four first order principles detailed in various

publications as follows and based on the Natural Step definitions:

• Substances from the earth’s crust must not systematically increase in the ecosphere.

• Substances produced by society must not systematically increase in the ecosphere.

• The physical basis for productivity and diversity of nature must not be systematically diminished.

• Fair and efficient use of resources with respect to meeting human needs (present and future).

Pages:   || 2 |

Similar works:

«Beyond 'Average' Family Life: Atypicality in the Golden Age of the Family Henrietta O’Connor and John Goodwin Centre for Labour Market Studies, University of Leicester Email: hso1@le.ac.uk Abstract The emergence of increasingly complex patterns of family formation in the post-war period are well-documented. Diverse family structures are not a new feature of family life and, as others have suggested, the extent of change in family structures in recent decades may have been over-emphasised....»

«Proceedings of the New Zealand Grassland Association 47: 223-227 (1986) ALTERNATIVE PHOSPHATIC FERTILISERS. NORTHLAND FARMERS, WEIGH THE EVIDENCE C. DURING and G.E. MALDEN Farmers Fertiliser Limited, Auckland. Abstract Fertilisers based on or enriched by reactive phosphate rock (RPR) compare favourably in price with superphosphate under certain conditions. The ultimate choice of fertiliser depends on three factors:the agronomic effectiveness of phosphorus in RPR in different soils; the sulphur...»

«Resume Book Spring 2016 Dear Real Estate Professionals: The Indiana University Real Estate Club thanks you for your continuous support of our growing program. We recognize that our relationship with you has been instrumental to our past success, and we are determined to foster that relationship and strengthen our partnership in future years. It is our goal to connect curious employers with eager students. The club has collected resumes from our committed members in order to present them in this...»

«CONTENTS 3 Malaysia-International Dental Exhibition and Conference Page No Scientific Programme 4-5 Messages 6-9 Organizing Committee 10-11 Live Surgery, Workshops & Masterclasses 12-17 Speakers 18-28 Oral Presentations 29-32 Poster Presentations 33-44 Floor Plan & Booth Information 45-47 Acknowledgement 48-49 Advertisement 50-68 SCIENTIFIC PROGRAMME 4 Malaysia-International Dental Exhibition and Conference DAY 1: 29/07/2016 (Friday) Dewan Tun Dr Ismail (Hall 1) Dewan Tun Hussein Onn...»

«Water Quality Assessments A Guide to Use of Biota, Sediments and Water in Environmental Monitoring Second Edition Edited by Deborah Chapman © 1992, 1996 UNESCO/WHO/UNEP ISBN 0 419 21590 5 (HB) 0 419 21600 6 (PB) Chapter 4* The use of particulate material *This chapter was prepared by R. Thomas and M. Meybeck 4.1. Introduction Since the publication of the original version of this guidebook in 1978 (UNESCO/WHO, 1978), much new information has been published on the role of particulates in the...»

«2015 GAI Istanbul International Academic Conference Proceedings Istanbul, Turkey The Effects of Co-Workers’ Social Undermining Behaviour on Employees’ Work Behaviours Lin Dar Ong, University of Malaya, Malaysia Angeline Tay, University of Malaya, Malaysia Abstract This study examines the extent to which trust in co-workers mediates the relationships between coworkers’ social undermining behaviour and employees’ work behaviours. Two structured questionnaires were designed to collect data...»


«13th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering Vancouver, B.C., Canada August 1-6, 2004 Paper No. 1515 STUDY ON TORSIONAL RESPONSE OF TALL BUILDING STRUCTURES WITH TRANSFER LAYER UNDER SEISMIC ACTION Changsong CHEN1 Zhongren CHANG1 Xuan ZHAO1 Mingkui XIAO1 SUMMARY The torsional response of tall building structures with transfer layer under seismic action is analyzed by the commonly used program PMSAP in China and the results are compared with those of the structures without transfer layer. The...»

«Soccer in Northeast Ohio By John Mills This document is for those kids (and families) who want a little more than just travel soccer. The following describes the opportunities for soccer in Northeast Ohio. There are several levels of organized soccer for young athletes in the Avon Lake/Northeast Ohio area.The following is a short list: 1) Rec – play within your community; 1 practice/week, 1 game/week.2) Travel – games played between communities; 2 practices/wk with 1 game/week (on Sundays)....»

«Concept Maps: Making Learning Meaningful Proc. of Fourth Int. Conference on Concept Mapping Viña del Mar, Chile, 2010 CONCEPTUAL MAPS AS A TOOL FOR KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT AT UNIVERSITIES Cristiane L. S. Garcia & Marta L. P. Valentim, Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), Brasil valentim@valentim.pro.br Abstract. Universities are responsible for a large part of the nation’s scientific knowledge creation. The knowledge is created through research, teaching and extension activities however it...»

«SHAPING UP: A Whitehall for the Future Simon Parker, Akash Paun, Jonathan McClory and Kate Blatchford Shaping Up 1 Contents Acknowledgements 5 What we did 6 Foreword from Sir Michael Bichard 7 Executive summary 8 Introduction 12 1. A strategic centre 18 2. Better boards 43 3. More effective collaboration 73 Conclusion 98 Appendices 101 Bibliography 123 List of Acronyms 130 Shaping Up 3 4 INSTITUTE FOR GOVERNMENT Acknowledgements Many people generously contributed time and expertise to this...»

«名古屋学院大学論集 言語・文化篇 第 22 巻 第 1 号(2010 年 10 月) Acoustic Analysis of English and Japanese Stop Voicing Contrasts Produced by Korean L2 Learners Katsumasa Shimizu Abstract The present study examines phonetic characteristics of Korean L2 learners, when they study English and Japanese stop voicing contrasts. VOT was measured for their Korean, English and Japanese utterances, and it was found that VOT can distinguish a three-way contrast of Korean...»

<<  HOME   |    CONTACTS
2017 www.abstract.dislib.info - Abstracts, online materials

Materials of this site are available for review, all rights belong to their respective owners.
If you do not agree with the fact that your material is placed on this site, please, email us, we will within 1-2 business days delete him.