Research Handbook on International Environmental Law
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Research Handbook on International Environmental Law

Edited by Malgosia Fitzmaurice, David M. Ong and Panos Merkouris

This wide-ranging and comprehensive Handbook examines recent developments in international environmental law (IEL) and the crossover effects of this expansion on other areas of international law, such as trade law and the law of the sea.
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Chapter 10: The Precautionary Principle

Minna Pyhälä, Anne Christine Brusendorff and Hanna Paulomäki


Minna Pyhälä, Anne Christine Brusendorff and Hanna Paulomäki Introduction The application of the precautionary principle is defined by the taking of measures to prevent potential harm to humans or the environment resulting from potentially damaging policies and actions in the face of scientific uncertainty. The concept embraces risk prevention, cost effectiveness, ethical responsibilities towards maintaining the integrity of natural systems, and the shortcomings of human understanding. The precautionary principle has since the mid-1980s been included in numerous international agreements regulating various environmental media. In addition to various hard and soft law instruments, there is widespread support for the precautionary principle in state practice and judicial opinion. The lack of rulings in favour of the precautionary principle in international courts, however, suggests that the principle is still only emerging as part of customary international law. This chapter gives an overview of the historical development of the precautionary principle from the preventative principle. An analysis of the various components of the principle is carried out, including the relationships between science, economics, ethics and politics. Emphasis is given to the lack of a clear definition, or guidelines for the interpretation of the principle’s components, which present a challenge to scientists and policy-makers in its application. Later in the chapter, examples are given of ways in which the precautionary principle has been and can be implemented. From repairing damage to acting with precaution: the evolution of the precautionary principle For a long time, the duty to prevent pollution of, and to protect,...

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