stirling-precautionaryprinciple - talking point talking...

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©2007 EUROPEAN MOLECULAR BIOLOGY ORGANIZATION EMBO reports VOL 8 | NO 4 | 2007 309 talking point talking point Risk, precaution and science: towards a more constructive policy debate Talking point on the precautionary principle Andrew Stirling F ew issues in contemporary risk policy are as momentous or contentious as the precautionary principle. Since it first emerged in German environmental policy, it has been championed by envi- ronmentalists and consumer protection groups, and resisted by the industries they oppose (Raffensperger & Tickner, 1999). Various versions of the principle now pro- liferate across different national and inter- national jurisdictions and policy areas (Fisher, 2002). From a guiding theme in European Commission (EC) environmen- tal policy, it has become a general princi- ple of EC law (CEC, 2000; Vos & Wendler, 2006). Its influence has extended from the regulation of environmental, technological and health risks to the wider governance of science, innovation and trade (O’Riordan & Cameron, 1994). An early classic formulation neatly encapsulates its key features. According to Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capa- bilities. Where there are threats of seri- ous or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental deg- radation” (UN, 1992). This injunction has given rise to a wide range of criticisms: sound scientific techniques of risk assess- ment already offer a comprehensive and rational set of ‘decision rules’ for use in policy (Byrd & Cothern, 2000); these sci- ence-based approaches yield a robust and practically operational basis for decision- making under uncertainty (Morris, 2000); the precautionary principle fails as a basis for any similar operational type of deci- sion rule in its own right (Peterson, 2006); the precautionary principle is of practical relevance only in risk management, and not in risk assessment (CEC, 2000); and, if applied to assessment, the precautionary principle threatens a rejection of useful and well-established risk assessment techniques (Woteki, 2000). Each of these involves strong assump- tions about the nature and standing of sci- entific rationality and rigour, the scope and character of uncertainty, the applicability and limits of risk assessment, and the par- ticular implications of precaution. I hope to contribute to a more measured debate on these matters, and will briefly review each of these arguments in turn. In the process, I will explore more constructive ways to sat- isfy imperatives for robustness, rationality, rigour and precaution.
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This note was uploaded on 03/10/2010 for the course IR 323 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '08 term at USC.

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stirling-precautionaryprinciple - talking point talking...

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