Sustainable Development. Precautionary Principle – Definition

The precautionary principle specifies a rationale and legal basis for governmental action in the context of inconclusive scientific evidence.
The invocation of the precautionary principle consists of two crucial elements:
1. The principle is to be applied in cases of potential adverse impacts on the environment or human health with serious consequences (thus implying that these consequences are unacceptable if they would materialise).
2. Governmental action should be taken even though “complete” scientific evidence is not available, there is ongoing scientific controversy, and/or there are disagreements about the lack of scientific knowledge. These circumstances are referred to as instances of scientific uncertainty. Scientific uncertainties arise because of controversies over the possibility of adverse effects to the environment or human health, their scope or their degree of seriousness.

The precautionary principle establishes a rationale for action: it substantially lowers the threshold for action of governments (and they have to become also responsive to citizens or interest groups appeals to the precautionary principle in socio-political or judicial controversies). It represents a departure from the previous state of affairs where political actors could use or abuse a persistent dissent among scientists as a reason or excuse, for not taking action at all.

The implementation of the precautionary principle, especially in the context of European Law, is revolutionary. It implies namely that regulators and policy makers have to act without predefined conceptions of risk or available quantitative thresholds. Risk management essentially always invokes the normative/ethical decision what type of action or precautionary measures are justified in the light of the anticipated potential threats.

Definition and Implementation of the PP- the Paper which you can download here, provides a definition and perspectives for the implementation of the PP, in particular under EU law.

Download a free pdf with a paper on the Precautionary Principle:
The normative challenges of the precautionary principle


A layman’s quetion to an expert(the public could call in during a radio interview): I heard the sun will cease to shine in about 5 billion years?
Answer of the expert: Well, in fact, according to the last estimates, our sun will last about 10 billion years.
Layman’s response: Thanks goodness!

From the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of sustainability
The pdf which you can download a the link provided below, deals with the problem of the contradiction between the necessity of long-term planning and the demand for democratic decision-making. It is simply not plausible that a much needed long-term sustainable development policy can get off the ground, if for the achievement of consensus on such a policy, we are fully dependent on the usual arenas of societal conflict resolution, e. g the arenas of the “market” and of “(Party) politics”.

In a working paper I wrote for the European Commission, I have outlined the advantages and limits of those two conventional regulatory mechanisms. I made the case for establishing further a third international arena of long-term deliberative planning which could overcome the above-mentioned contradiction and reconcile long term planning with the aspiration of lively democracies(which seem unfortunately on the decline….)

Free pdf at this link:

the objective of sustainable development: are we coming closer?

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