Skip to main content
Select Source:

Precautionary Principle

Precautionary Principle


The precautionary principle, also referred to as the precautionary approach, justifies the use of cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation even in the absence of full scientific certainty. This principle has obvious applications to various forms of environmental pollution. The principle can be traced to German national law in 1976, which states, "[e]nvironmental policy is not fully accomplished by warding off imminent hazards and the elimination of damage which has occurred. Precautionary environmental policy requires furthermore that natural resources are protected and demands on them are made with care."

The principle's first applications beyond national boundaries came in 1987. It was quickly adopted into numerous multilateral treaties and international declarations, including the 1987 Montréal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the 1990 Bergen Declaration on Sustainable Development, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, and the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam, which has broadened and redefined the goals and institutions of the European Union.

The principle's scope varies dramatically in these documents as well as in national legislation that contains it. In some, it is limited to toxic substances that are persistent and can bioaccumulate . In others, like the Bergen Declaration, it covers all government policies with the potential to degrade the environment, even when some causal relationships have not been fully established scientifically. Some critics contend that the Principle restricts technology. It has been a focus of U.S.European Union (EU) trade disputes, as Europeans have argued for its application to genetically modified foods, animal-growth-promoting hormones , and phthalates (softeners) in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) children's toys. The U.S. government also contends that the principle is a nontariff barrier, that is a policy that interferes with exports or imports other than a simple tariff such as quota.

see also Laws and Regulations, International; Laws and Regulations, United States; Treaties and Conferences.

Bibliography

goklany, indur m. (2001). precautionary principle: a critical appraisal of environmental risk analysis. washington, d.c.: cato institute.

Michael G. Schechter

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Precautionary Principle." Pollution A to Z. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Precautionary Principle." Pollution A to Z. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/educational-magazines/precautionary-principle

"Precautionary Principle." Pollution A to Z. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/educational-magazines/precautionary-principle

Precautionary Principle

PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE

The Precautionary Principle is referred to in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; the declaration includes the principle, "Nations shall use the precautionary approach to protect the environment. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, scientific uncertainty shall not be used to postpone cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation." This idea is being increasingly invoked as a rationale for environmental health policy, including its formal appearance in international treaties. The Precautionary Principle, along with terms such as "sustainable development," expresses a broad approach for which there is general support and agreement. However, as with sustainable development, it is a term that is often difficult to crisply define, and its implications to specific issues are not easily agreed upon.

Three elements appear to be central to the Precautionary Principle. First, there must be some factual basis that raises a legitimate reason for concern; second, there is no certainty as to whether the concern will turn out to be justifiedor whether the proposed remedy will be effective; and third, the remedy has a reasonably substantial economic or societal cost. There is some debate as to whether the Precautionary Principle is an alternative to risk assessment or whether the two approaches are mutually complementary. In retrospect, there have been many past governmental actions that clearly rank as precautionary, without the term "Precautionary Principle" being invoked. Examples include the use of maximal available control technology for hazardous air pollutants, or ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) for radiation protection.

Bernard D. Goldstein

(see also: Environmental Determinants of Health; Environmental Justice; Environmental Movement; Environmental Protection Agency; Risk Assessment, Risk Management )

Bibliography

Goldstein, B. D. (1999). "The Precautionary Principle and Scientific Research Are Not Antithetical." Environmental Health Perspectives 107:594595.

O'Riordan, T., and Cameron, J., eds. (1994). Interpreting the Precautionary Principle. London: Earthscan Publications.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Precautionary Principle." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Precautionary Principle." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/precautionary-principle

"Precautionary Principle." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/precautionary-principle

precautionary principle

pre·cau·tion·ar·y prin·ci·ple • n. the principle that the introduction of a new product or process whose ultimate effects are disputed or unknown should be resisted. It has mainly been used to prohibit the importation of genetically modified organisms and food.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"precautionary principle." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"precautionary principle." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/precautionary-principle

"precautionary principle." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/precautionary-principle