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Uncertainty Regarding the Precise Normative Implications of the So-called 'Precautionary Principle'

Info: 5518 words (22 pages) Essay
Published: 7th Aug 2019

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): EU Law

Method in Environmental Law

Title of Assignment:  ‘Uncertainty regarding the precise normative implications of the so-called “precautionary principle” in EU environmental law exemplifies the drawbacks of relying upon such vague legal constructs in the elaboration of environmental law and policy.’  Critically Discuss.

Word Count: 4005 Words


The Precautionary Principle in its least difficult frame states: “When a movement raises dangers of damage to human well-being or nature, prudent steps ought to be taken regardless of whether some circumstances and end results connections are not completely settled experimentally”. This Principle is the reason for European Environmental law and assumes an expanding job in creating natural wellbeing strategies also. It additionally is utilised in environmental decision making in Canada and in a few European nations, particularly in Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. The Precautionary Principle improves the accumulation of hazard data for, among different things, high creation volume synthetic substances and hazard-based investigations all in all. It doesn’t kill the requirement for good science or for science-based hazard evaluations. Public participation is energised in both the survey procedure and the decision making process. The Precautionary Principle empowers, and at times may require, the straightforwardness of the hazard evaluation process on wellbeing danger of synthetic substances both for general wellbeing and the earth. A discussion proceeds on whether the Principle should grasp the “polluter pays” principle and place the obligation regarding giving danger evaluation on the industry. The best components of a prudent methodology request great science and test mainstream researchers to enhance strategies utilised for risk assessment.

As the Environmental law occasionally works in the territories complicated by abnormal state of logical vulnerability, the preparatory standard is presently rising as a rule of law setting up whether the improvement procedure is economical or not. Lawful process joined to the use of ecological insurance dependent on prudent rule requires the capable open and private power holders to avoid or end conceivable dangerous action.

Scarcely any arrangements for hazard administration have made as much contention as the Precautionary Principle. In its most straightforward frame, the Precautionary Principle becomes an integral factor when an action raises a risk of damage to human wellbeing or nature or a cause and effect relationship has not been built up experimentally. Under such conditions, the Precautionary Principle recommends that positive move be made even without complete logical data. The Precautionary Principle has engendered much controversy, in part because critics of the Principle have interpreted “precautionary” decisions as veiled forms of trade protectionism. Recent example include delays in approving genetically engineered crops in the European Union.

The starting point of the Precautionary Principle can be followed to the ecological development of the mid-1970s and specifically to Germany with the ‘vorsorgeprinzip’ or prescience guideline[1]. At the centre of this standard is the conviction that society should look to maintain a strategic distance from natural harm via cautious forward arranging. The ‘vorsorgeprinzip’ formed into a crucial guideline of German ecological law, adjusted by standards of financial reasonability, and has been utilized to actualize arrangements to address corrosive rain, a dangerous atmospheric division, and North Sea contamination. Characterising Precautionary Principle is troublesome since there does not appear to be a solitary definition. In fact, one legal analysis[2] has identified 14 different formulations of the principle in treaties and non-treaty declarations.

Deficient data, uncertain proof and public controversy can make it hard to accomplish agreement over the suitable reaction to hazardous substances or exercises, yet these are accurately the sorts of conditions that regularly request firm choices. The precautionary principle is intended to help with basic decision making under vulnerability and is a centre standard of EU ecological law, cherished in Article 191(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. The exemplary meaning of “a precautionary approach” originates from the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which expresses that:

“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” (UNEP 1992).”

As it were, a precautionary methodology catches that administrative intervention may, in any case, be genuine, regardless of whether the supporting proof is inadequate or theoretical and the financial expenses of direction are high. Better to be as careful as possible. In the Communication on the Precautionary Principle from 2000[3], the European Commission elucidated that:

“Recourse to the precautionary principle presupposes that potentially dangerous effects deriving from a phenomenon, product or process have been identified, and that scientific evaluation does not allow the risk to be determined with sufficient certainty.

The implementation of an approach based on the precautionary principle should start with a scientific evaluation, as complete as possible, and where possible, identifying at each stage the degree of scientific uncertainty.” (European Commission, 2000, COM (2000) 1 final).

The European Commission likewise alludes to the requirement for ‘sensible reason for worry’ about potential dangers. Significantly, this implies the rule should just to be utilised if a hazard is regarded to be conceivable. Any administrative measures presented because of the precautionary rule ought to likewise be liable to survey in light of new logical information, and may be changed or nullified as new logical information end up accessible.

In this sense, the Communication gives a well ordered manual for applying the guideline; nonetheless, it isn’t prescriptive and is intended to be flexible, allowing for the assortment of conditions in which the standard may work. The Commission noticed that it is at last for decision-makers and the courts to tissue out the points of interest.

The Communication is only one record of the precautionary principle; others can be found in various legitimate settings. Indeed, even inside EU law, the precautionary principle is exceedingly pliant and performs a wide range of capacities (Scotford, 2017). Therefore, this rule is viewed as more unpredictable and dynamic than the guideline of avoidance, which tends to better-comprehended dangers to the environment. In actuality, it is hard to draw a sharp line among ‘precautionary measure’ and ‘counteractive action’, given that science dependably involves components of uncertainty and vulnerability. One remarkable contrast, in any case, is that the guideline of counteractive action has not created an indistinguishable dimension of discussion from the prudent rule — conceivably in light of the fact that following up on realised dangers is less questionable, given the EU’s accentuation on ‘evidence-based approach’.

The precautionary guideline has been connected to a differing scope of fields, including wellbeing assurance, natural direction, biodiversity administration and developing advancements. It might be hard to achieve concurrence on precisely how to execute the prudent rule, since understandings of hazard can shift among decision makers, partners and nationals. Almost certainly the precautionary principle will keep on starting discussions about the most ideal methods for managing natural change.


Scientific uncertainty is critical in understanding how and why the prudent guideline applies (von Schomberg, 2012). The improvement of ‘proof based arrangement’ has featured the difficulties of managing ecological vulnerability (Stirling, 2016). It is implausible to anticipate that administrative science will give absolutely indisputable data to governments on general wellbeing or ecological issues — as some component of vulnerability is an unavoidable piece of scientific inquiry. It very well may be hard to decide precisely when and the proper behaviour on potential dangers and how to act upon them. (Uggla et al., 2012). Authoritative responses to such inquiries are not accessible: standards like the precautionary principle are not rules that recommend particular activities or results.

The significance of uncertainty is likewise more mind-boggling than may be clear. Science and innovation study have demonstrated that uncertainty can come from in excess of a basic absence of information or lacking models of hazard appraisal. Uncertainty may likewise exist as indeterminacy (where we don’t have a clue about every one of the variables affecting the causal chains), ambiguity (where there are conflicting assurances), and ignorance(where we don’t comprehend that we don’t have any idea). The precautionary principle can assume a critical job intending to these numerous layers of uncertainty.

To outline whether and how the precautionary principle may apply to various sorts of uncertainty, Von Schomberg (2012) thinks about four situations:

• The precautionary principle isn’t expected to apply to ‘theoretical impacts and fanciful hazard’; rather, it ought to be founded on a logical examination of the issue. In fact, this has been affirmed on various events by the Court of Justice of the EU.[4]

• The precautionary principle won’t make a difference where the coveted dimension of insurance is characterised and the danger of mischief can be evaluated. This circumstance can be managed to utilise ‘ordinary’ chance administration apparatuses.

• Where a movement or substance represents a conceivable danger of damage yet there is deficient logical proof or an absence of understanding with regards to the nature or size of the reasonable antagonistic impacts, a precautionary methodology can be legitimised.

• A precautionary methodology may be justified where the potential damages are known yet the specific reason impact connections can’t be deductively settled.

As is clear, there is no single way to deal with the precautionary principle. Persson (2016) proposes that ‘additional insurance’ might be defended when managing critical qualities, (for example, wellbeing and ecological security), despite the fact that these are methodically minimised by more conventional choice techniques; or when we presume that the choice may prompt irreversible and extreme outcomes, and where the qualities in question are likewise crucial; or when it is more essential to maintain a strategic distance from false negatives than false positives. Understandings of the precautionary principle will keep on creating as originations of uncertainty develops.


(Urgenda Foundation v. Kingdom of the Netherlands)

An ongoing lawful examination recommends that utilising the precautionary principle in environmental change-related legitimate cases could expand the odds of accomplishment by beating issues of logical vulnerability that are generally abused by respondents (Omuko, 2016).

Dissatisfactions over the inability to handle environmental change have driven some open intrigue gatherings, people and neighbourhood governments to indict enterprises and national governments, especially in Australia and the United States. In an ongoing precedent in Europe, an argument was brought against the Dutch government by a Dutch NGO (Hague District court, 2015). In this milestone case, the court decided that the administration was ignoring its obligations to address environmental change sufficiently and requested it to check the Netherlands’ discharges. Be that as it may, this precedent is a special case to the general example. Somewhere else, most environmental change-related cases don’t prompt effective decisions. Omuko (2016) contends that the fundamental boundary to progress is the ‘confirmation issue’. This alludes to two related issues:

• The principal issue is the ‘drop in the sea’ issue. This is a contention regularly utilized by litigants to guarantee that their emanations are too little contrasted with worldwide outflows with bringing about any genuine effect.

• The second issue is a logical vulnerability. Despite the fact that there is solid logical proof of environmental change and its effects, it isn’t conceivable to connect a particular effect to a particular wellspring of outflows — as is normally required by courts.

The precautionary principle might be utilised in these circumstances to take defensive measures despite an absence of proof of damage or clear causal connections. Practically speaking, it might enable courts to acknowledge general proof of environmental change and its effects. For example, proof of worldwide ocean level ascent could imply that disintegration at a particular beach front site is likely. This methodology was taken in an Australian case, where the court acknowledged the general accord that environmental change will prompt a danger of extraordinary climate occasions, and, accordingly, did not concede a building license to develop coastline apartments.[5]

The prudent standard could likewise move the weight of verification to the respondent. This happened in the United States where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was required to demonstrate that ozone-depleting substance emanations from the vehicle business don’t add to environmental change. The EPA neglected to demonstrate this and was requested to direct transport discharges. The court adopted a preparatory strategy for this situation, contending that the EPA couldn’t stay away from its commitments on account of some ‘lingering vulnerability’ (Supreme Court of the United States, 2007).

Omuko (2016) contends that expanded utilisation of the preparatory rule in a suit could prompt more fruitful judgements and, therefore, put more noteworthy weight on governments and organizations to be more proactive in their reaction to environmental change.


The precautionary principle has emerged as a result of the observation that the pace of endeavours to battle issues, for example, environmental change, biological community debasement, and asset consumption is to moderate and that natural and medical issues keep on developing more quickly than culture’s capacity to distinguish and amend them.[6]

The prudent guideline is an intrigue to reasonability routed to approach creators who must make choices about items or exercises that could be truly destructive to general wellbeing and environment.[7]

Inconsistency with Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, the general standards of law are likewise wellsprings of worldwide law. Standards ought to be considered as one of the gauges, among others. That permits assessment of the legitimacy of law. Additionally, standards can possibly aid the translation of different guidelines. At long last, standards have an ability to fill the holes.

The precautionary principle is a controlling rule that gives accommodating criteria to decide the most sensible strategy in defying circumstances of potential dangers. It is open-finished and adaptable guideline which makes a plausibility and a motivating force for social learning.

This guideline expresses that proof of damage, instead of a complete confirmation of mischief, should provoke strategy activity and upholding the presence of mind. The standard makes it unmistakable those choices and improvements in science and innovation are basically founded on qualities and just to a lesser degree on logical actualities and advancement. Consequently, prudent rule typifies the thought; as opposed to anticipating logical conviction that controllers should act fully expecting natural mischief to guarantee that this damage does not happen.

The preparatory guideline may just be conjured with the fullest conceivable logical assessment, the assurance, beyond what many would consider possible, of the level of logical vulnerability. In addition, it ought to be implanted with a hazard assessment and an assessment of the potential outcomes of inaction, and also the support of every single invested individual in the investigation of prudent steps, when the aftereffects of the logical assessment and additionally the hazard assessment are accessible.


There are real boundaries as for revelation, get to, utilize, intelligibility, cost and nature of data. In particular, end-clients are not having the capacity to discover those, or are not having consent to gets to those, or there are confinements forced on clients. Usually hard to consolidate information at the cost that is past the financial plan of the user.[8]

The general standards of hazard administration stay relevant when the precautionary principle is conjured. Said standards are those of proportionality, non-segregation, examination of the advantages and expenses of activity or absence of activity and the examination of logical development.[9]

Proportionality implies fitting measures to the picked dimension of security. To be specific, the hazard can once in a while be diminished to zero, yet inadequate hazard appraisals may enormously decrease the scope of alternatives open to change supervisors. In spite of the fact that an aggregate boycott may not be a corresponding reaction to a potential hazard in all cases, in specific cases, it is the sole conceivable reaction to a given hazard.

The rule of non-separation traces that equivalent circumstances ought not to be dealt with in an unexpected way and those diverse circumstances ought not to be treated similarly, except if there are target reason for doing as such.

Consistency depicts that measures ought to be of practically identical extension and nature to those effectively taken in proportionate regions in which every logical datum are accessible.

Analysing expenses and advantages involves looking at the general expense of activity and absence of activity, in both the short and long haul. Its extension is more extensive than a basic financial money saving advantage investigation, and incorporates non-monetary contemplations, for instance on the adequacy of conceivable alternatives and their agreeableness to the general population.

Measures dependent on the precautionary principle ought to be kept up in as much as logical data is fragmented or uncertain if the hazard is as yet thought about too high to be in any way forced on society, in perspective of a picked dimension of assurance.

States that force an earlier endorsement (advertising authorisation) prerequisite on items that they regard unsafe from the earlier invert the weight of demonstrating damage, by regarding them as hazardous except if and until the point that organizations do the logical work important to exhibit that they are sheltered. Where there is no earlier authorisation method, it might be up to the client or to open specialists to exhibit the idea of a peril and the dimension of the danger of an item or process. In such cases, a particular prudent step may be assumed to position the weight of confirmation upon the maker, producer or shipper, however, this can’t be made a general principle.


The preparatory standard, or fore-caring, adds to the change our conduct, actually and by and large. It reminds us to recognize botches, concede our numbness, and act with prescience and alert to counteract harm. It additionally evacuates the boundaries to that sort of prudent action.[10]

The plan of action to the prudent rule comprises a vital part inside the general structure of hazard and all the more especially inside setting of hazard administration which compares to the basic leadership stage.

To be specific, the preparatory guideline may just be conjured in case of a potential hazard and can never legitimize subjective choices. The preparatory guideline may just be summoned when the three starter conditions are met: recognizable proof of possibly unfavourable impacts; assessment of the logical information accessible; the degree of logical uncertainty.[11]

From the minute when the prudent guideline is perceived in global law, it additionally turns out to be a piece of the general standards of natural law, with undisputed authenticity in managing the elucidation and the utilization of every single lawful standard in power. The prudent rule necessitates that the primary weight of giving proof to security lays on the proposers of another innovation or action.


A typical feedback of the precautionary principle is that it is not well characterised. Concerns identify with uncertain terms, for example, ‘irreversible mischief’ or ‘absence of full logical conviction’. For instance, Sandin (2006) censures the Rio Declaration’s definition for just revealing to us what not to do, and for not characterizing a ‘genuine risk’. Critics have recommended that these definitional issues undermine lawful conviction (Morris, 2000) and create conflicting and deceitful choices (Marchant and Mossman, 2004). Some contend that specific forms of the guideline are deadening since they offer no direction and restrict all approaches (Sunstein, 2003).

Reactions to criticism of vagueness incorporate the contention that irregularity isn’t caused by the rule itself, yet rather by its application. Garnett and Parsons (2016) survey a choice of EU cases which summon the standard and recommend that the choice on whether to apply the prudent guideline in EU law can be vague, ‘with ambiguities natural in figuring out what dimension of vulnerability and centrality of danger legitimises conjuring the precautionary rule’ (Garnett and Parsons, 2017).

It has additionally been called attention to that customary hazard evaluation is no more ‘characteristically safe’ to control than other choice standards (Stirling, 2016). The prudent standard ought not be comprehended as an exact equation but instead an ‘adaptable rule that guarantees that leaders are not disregarding issues of logical vulnerability’ (Fisher, 2007).

Stirling (2016) underlines that the prudent rule can be utilised in different courses, related to different hazard appraisal and prescience apparatuses (Science for Environment Policy, 2016). The guideline can be perused as a straightforward prerequisite to considering, regardless of whether they are dubious, which is a methodology basic to all standard fields of basic leadership in states of vulnerability (Grant and Quiggin, 2013).

A further feedback of the prudent standard is that it is hostile to logical and smothers advancement. This contention is most usually coordinated at ‘solid’ elucidations of the standard — which might be comprehended as a decision out all improvements that could have unfriendly wellbeing or ecological outcomes. This elucidation of the rule is assaulted on the premise that it is never conceivable to kill chance through and through; there is no such thing as a zero-chance movement. A related dread is that excessively prudent basic leadership will debilitate interest in innovative advancement, driving ‘toward no path by any means’ (Sunstein, 2003). The guideline is likewise some of the time misconstrued by commentators to signify ‘unreasonable’ direction as opposed to insurance. A portion of these worries is voiced by industry delegates dreading troublesome standards as a result of the prudent guideline. In any case, others contend that applying the guideline does not really mean more stringent or expensive direction and that it could basically be utilized to guarantee better procedures of basic leadership as opposed to a specific result.

It doesn’t pursue that safety measure is un-or hostile to logical. What is informal, says Stirling (2016), is to overlook numerous points of view on vulnerability. The way that the prudent standard can energise more open exchange of the esteem judgements supporting techniques for hazard evaluation and money saving advantage investigation can be said to make the rule progressively, instead of less, sensible and responsible. The prudent rule may likewise dodge circumstances in which standard hazard investigation generally makes an inclination for taking risks on inadequately comprehended dangers (Grant and Quiggin, 2013).

One reaction to contentions that the prudent rule is excessively solid (and in this way incapacitating) or excessively feeble (and in this manner futile) is that the rule might be utilised for a scope of various purposes, (for example, fortified models, checking measures or authorizing courses of action).


The precautionary principle is as a feature of the bundle of standards of biologically economic improvement. Control of advances, financial improvement and administrative examination include adjusting of the expense of being excessively prohibitive in regard of development with the dangers and cost of being excessively tolerant, in the circumstance of logical vulnerability and numbness. The idea of preventive actuation of the precautionary principle results in the taking of measures to forestall ecological harm without holding up until the point that the truth and reality of the dangers of natural harm turn out to be completely known. Reasonability additionally recommends that some edge for blunder ought to be held until the point that every one of the outcomes of the choice to continue with the advancement plan, program or task are known. Potential blunders are weighted for natural security.

The main condition for use of prudent standards is a danger of genuine or irreversible ecological harm and logical vulnerability with regards to natural harm. The second condition is the level of logical vulnerability that requirements to existing with the end goal to trigger use of the prudent standard fluctuates relying upon the magnitude of natural harm utilised in the detailing of the primary condition point of reference of the preparatory guideline. The prudent standard won’t make a difference if there is no significant logical vulnerability (the second condition isn’t fulfilled) yet there is a danger of genuine or irreversible natural harm (the principal condition point of reference is fulfilled). In a later case, measures will at present be taken yet these will be protection measures to control or direct the generally certain risk of genuine or irreversible natural harm, as opposed to prudent steps which are fitting in connection to dubious dangers.

In applying the prudent guideline there must be a proportionality of reaction or cost adequacy of room for mistakes to demonstrate that the chose careful step isn’t unduly expensive. Although, the precautionary principle has turned out to be inserted in the way of life and routine with regards to EU ecological insurance, its character implies that it will essentially proceed to advance and come to fruition under changing and setting particular conditions.


  1. Ahteensuu M, ‘Agricultural Biotechnology and The Precautionary Principle’ (2010) 4 Sociology Compass.
  2. Camerun, James, Abouchar, Juli, The Precautionary Principle: A Fundamental Principle of Law and Policy of Protection of the Global Environment (1991) Boston College of International and Comparative Law Review, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp. 1-26.
  3. Case T-13/99 Pfizer Animal Health SA v Council of the European Union [2002] ECR II-03305
  4. ‘EUR-Lex – L32042 – EN – EUR-Lex’ (Eur-lex.europa.eu, 2018) <http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM:l32042> accessed 16 November 2018
  5. Gardiner S, ‘A Core Precautionary Principle’ (2006) 14 Journal of Political Philosophy
  6. Gippsland Coastal Board vs South Gippslands & Others: https://wwwvcatvicgovau/sites/default/files/resources/gippsland_coastal_board_v_south_gippsland_sc_and_otherspdf
  7. Kriebel D and others, ‘The Precautionary Principle in Environmental Science’ (2001) 109 Environmental Health Perspectives
  8. Kriebel DJ Tickner, ‘Reenergizing Public Health Through Precaution’ (2001) 91 American Journal of Public Health.
  9. Lee Ho, ‘The Precautionary Principle Under German And International Environmental Law – Analysis and Comparison -‘ (2018) 20 Environmental Law and Policy
  10. Myers N, ‘The Precautionary Principle Puts Values First’ (2002) 22 Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society
  11. Vanderzwaag D, ‘The Precautionary Principle and Marine Environmental Protection: Slippery Shores, Rough Seas, And Rising Normative Tides’ (2002) 33 Ocean Development & International Law.

[1] David Kriebel and Joel Tickner, ‘Reenergizing Public Health Through Precaution’ (2001) 91 American Journal of Public Health.

[2] David Vanderzwaag, ‘The Precautionary Principle And Marine Environmental Protection: Slippery Shores, Rough Seas, And Rising Normative Tides’ (2002) 33 Ocean Development & International Law.

[3] ‘EUR-Lex – L32042 – EN – EUR-Lex’ (Eur-lex.europa.eu, 2018) <http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM:l32042> accessed 16 November 2018.

[4] See: (Case T-13/99 Pfizer Animal Health SA v Council of the European Union [2002] ECR II-03305).

[5] Gippsland Coastal Board vs South Gippslands & Others: https://wwwvcatvicgovau/sites/default/files/resources/gippsland coastal_board_v_south_gippsland_sc_and_others pdf.

[6]  David Kriebel and others, ‘The Precautionary Principle In Environmental Science’ (2001) 109 Environmental Health Perspectives.

[7] Stephen M. Gardiner, ‘A Core Precautionary Principle’ (2006) 14 Journal of Political Philosophy.

[8] Luttenberger, Axel, Kos, Serdjo, Regulating the Provisions of European Marine Data and Observation, International Conference IMLA 21, Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfouland, St. John’s, NL, Canada, 2013, pp. 69-73.

[9] Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission on the precautionary principle, Brussels (2000) 1 final.

[10] Nancy Myers, ‘The Precautionary Principle Puts Values First’ (2002) 22 Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society.

[11] Camerun, James, Abouchar, Juli, The Precautionary Principle: A Fundamental Principle of Law and Policy of Protection of the Global Environment (1991) Boston College of International and Comparative Law Review, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp. 1-26.

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