The World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology
(COMEST, under the auspices of United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), 2005)
When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm.
Morally unacceptable harm refers to harm to humans or the environment that is
- threatening to human life or health, or
- serious and effectively irreversible, or
- inequitable to present or future generations, or
- imposed without adequate consideration of the human rights of those affected.
The judgement of plausibility should be grounded in scientific analysis. Analysis should be ongoing so that chosen actions are subject to review.
Uncertainty may apply to, but need not be limited to, causality or the bounds of the possible harm.
Actions are interventions that are undertaken before harm occurs that seek to avoid or diminish the harm. Actions should be chosen that are proportional to the seriousness of the potential harm, with consideration of their positive and negative consequences, and with an assessment of the moral implications of both action and inaction. The choice of action should be the result of a participatory process.
European Environment Agency, 2004
The Precautionary Principle provides a framework, procedures and policy tools for public policy actions in situations of scientific complexity, uncertainty and ignorance, where there may be a need to act before there is strong proof of harm in order to avoid, or reduce, potentially serious or irreversible threats to health or the environment, using an appropriate level of scientific evidence, and taking into account the likely pros and cons of action and inaction.
European Environment Agency, 2004
The World Health Organization (2000)
The Precautionary principle is a risk management policy applied in circumstances with a high degree of scientific uncertainty, reflecting the need to take action for a potentially serious risk without awaiting the results of scientific research.
WHO Backgrounder, Electromagnetic fields and public health: cautionary policies, Match 2000
The European Commission (2000)
The precautionary principle is not defined in the Treaty, which prescribes it only once – to protect the environment. But in practice, its scope is much wider, and specifically where preliminary objective scientific evaluation indicates that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with the high level of protection chosen for the Community.
Commission Communication on the Precautionary Principle, Com(2000)1, Feb 2 2000
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, UN, 1992
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. 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
The Climate Change Convention (1992)
The Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effect. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures, taking into account that policies and measures to deal with climate change should be cost-effective so as to ensure global benefit at the lowest possible cost.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, May 9, 1992
Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (1992)
The precautionary principle, by virtue of which action to avoid the transboundary impact of the release of hazardous substances shall not be postponed on the ground that scientific research has not fully proved a causal link between those substances, on the one hand, and the potential transboundary impact, on the other hand…
March 17 1992
Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty), (1992)
“Community policy on the environment… shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive actions should be taken, that the environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”
The Ministerial Declaration Calling for Reduction of Pollution (1987)
In order to protect the North Sea from possibly damaging effects of the most dangerous substances, a precautionary approach is addressed which may requiren action to control inputs of such substances even before a causal link has been established by absolutely clear scientific evidence
Nov 25 1987