Theory and Impact
Critical Issues in Environmental Taxation series
Edited by Larry Kreiser, Soocheol Lee, Kazuhiro Ueta, Janet E. Milne and Hope Ashiabor
Chapter 3: The role of the precautionary principle in designing energy taxes in Australia
The precautionary principle as defined in Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states: 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 precautionary principle has been widely used in international environmental law, but it has not been employed to judge political decisions for the conservation of oil. The call to conserve oil for future generations can be identified from the United Nations (UN) Brundtland Report, which states that the needs of the present must be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In designing and implementing oil policy in Australia, the precautionary principle dictates that measures to ensure sustainability should take the long term view and not be postponed on the grounds that scientific certainty has yet to be achieved. This chapter examines the sustainability of oil within the principles laid down by the global community through UN declarations and resolutions and how Australia has applied these principles. This chapter also demonstrates that the Australian government has a moral imperative and arguably also a legal obligation to adopt policies for the sustainability of oil, and that the precautionary principle can assist in designing energy taxes in Australia.
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