Rachel's Precaution Reporter #66
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

From: The Precautionary Principle Project .................[This story printer-friendly]
November 29, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: These guidelines have been formulated through focusing on forestry, fisheries, protected areas, invasive alien species, and wildlife conservation, management, use and trade. The primary target audience of these guidelines is policymakers, legislators and practitioners, but they also aim to create a culture of precaution in all sectors relevant to biodiversity conservation and natural resource management.]

These precautionary guidelines have been developed by The Precautionary Principle Project -- a joint initiative of Fauna & Flora International, IUCN- The World Conservation Union, ResourceAfrica and TRAFFIC. They are the product of an international consultative process carried out from 2002 to 2005, involving a wide range of experts and stakeholders from different regions, sectors, disciplines and perspectives. This process has included three regional workshops (for East/Southern Africa, Latin America, and South/South-East Asia), a commissioned set of case studies, an open-access e-conference, and a final international review workshop.

The Guidelines are also informed by meetings and discussions held at the World Summit for Sustainable Development, the IUCN World Parks Congress and the IUCN World Conservation Congress. These Guidelines are taken from the forthcoming publication Biodiversity and the Precautionary Principle: Risk and Uncertainty in Conservation and Sustainable Use (Earthscan, London), and do not necessarily reflect the view of IUCN or other collaborating organisations.



The uncertainty surrounding potential threats to the environment has frequently been used as a reason to avoid taking action to protect the environment. However, it is not always possible to have clear evidence of a threat to the environment before the damage occurs. Precaution - the "Precautionary Principle" or "Precautionary Approach" -- is a response to this uncertainty.

The Precautionary Principle has been widely incorporated, in various forms, in international environmental agreements and declarations and further developed in some national legislation. An element common to the various formulations of the Precautionary Principle is the recognition that lack of certainty regarding the threat of environmental harm should not be used as an excuse for not taking action to avert that threat (See Box 1). The Precautionary Principle recognizes that delaying action until there is compelling evidence of harm will often mean that it is then too costly or impossible to avert the threat. Use of the principle promotes action to avert risks of serious or irreversible harm to the environment in such cases. The Principle therefore provides an important policy basis to anticipate, prevent and mitigate threats to the environment.


BOX 1: Some examples of different formulations of the Precautionary Principle

Rio Declaration, 1992, Principle 15

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.

Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992, Preamble [W]here there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.

UK Biodiversity Action Plan, 1994, para 6.8

In line with the precautionary principle, where interactions are complex and where the available evidence suggests that there is a significant chance of damage to our biodiversity heritage occurring, conservation measures are appropriate, even in the absence of conclusive scientific evidence that the damage will occur

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Resolution Conf 9.24 (Rev CoP13)

[T]he Parties shall, by virtue of the precautionary approach and in case of uncertainty either as regards the status of a species or the impact of trade on the conservation of a species, act in the best interest of the conservation of the species concerned and adopt measures that are proportionate to the anticipated risks to the species.


There has been much debate about the nature of the concept of precaution, in particular whether it should be accepted as a legal principle in addition to being a sound policy approach. Some have argued against the recognition of precaution as a "principle" of environmental law, which implies a broad obligation to apply precaution in decision-making, in favour of viewing precaution as merely one particular policy/management "approach" to dealing with uncertain threats. While it is undisputed that in an increasing number of specific contexts there are clear legal requirements to apply precaution, there is an ongoing debate on whether precaution has become part of international customary law. The development of these guidelines has not been shaped by this distinction. The term 'Precautionary Principle' has been used throughout these guidelines for consistency.

Scope and target audience

This document provides guidance on the application of the Precautionary Principle to the conservation of biodiversity and natural resource management. Throughout this document the term natural resource management (or NRM) refers only to the management of living natural resources. These guidelines have been formulated through focusing on forestry, fisheries, protected areas, invasive alien species, and wildlife conservation, management, use and trade. They may also be relevant to decision-making in other sectors that impact on biodiversity.

The primary target audience of these guidelines is policymakers, legislators and practitioners, but they also aim to create a culture of precaution in all sectors relevant to biodiversity conservation and NRM.


To apply the precautionary principle effectively:


Guideline 1: INCORPORATE

Incorporate the Precautionary Principle explicitly into appropriate legal, institutional and policy frameworks for biodiversity conservation and natural resource management.

Elaboration: Application of the principle requires a clear legal and policy basis and an effective system of governance. It also requires the establishment and maintenance of adequately resourced institutions to carry out research into risk and uncertainty in environmental decision-making.

Guideline 2: INTEGRATE

Integrate application of the Precautionary Principle with the application of and support for other relevant principles and rights.

Elaboration Other principles and rights are also relevant to conservation and NRM, including prevention, liability for environmental damage, inter-generational and intra-generational equity, the right to development, the right to a healthy environment and human rights to food, water, health and shelter. These other rights and principles must be borne in mind when applying the Precautionary Principle. In some circumstances they may strengthen the case for precautionary action, while in others the Precautionary Principle may need to be weighed against these other rights and principles.


Develop clear and context-specific obligations and operational measures for particular sectors and contexts, or with respect to specific conservation or management problems.

Elaboration: The Precautionary Principle is a general guide for action; it is not a "rule" specifying that a particular decision should be made or outcome reached. To have conservation impact, it will typically require translation into concrete policy and management measures that are readily understood, that address the conservation problem and that identify actions to be taken in specific contexts. Without these, incorporation of the principle in law or policy may have little influence on practice. However, there is also a need for flexibility: the specific decisions and management or policy measures that it supports may vary over time and with changing circumstances.


Include all relevant stakeholders and rightholders in a transparent process of assessment, decision-making and implementation

Elaboration: Precautionary decision-making involves making decisions where there is uncertainty about the underlying threat. This means that judgements, values and cultural perceptions of risk, threat and required action must play a role. Therefore, it is important to include stakeholders and rightholders and to be transparent throughout the process of assessment, decision-making and implementation. Key stakeholders include those who bear the costs of the potential threat, such as those who will be impacted by degradation or loss of biodiversity or natural resources, and those who bear costs of precautionary action (if any), such as those whose legitimate use of natural resources will be restricted. Indigenous peoples and local communities often play a very important role in NRM or rely on biodiversity and natural resources, and should be included. They should have the opportunity and resources to represent themselves and their interests effectively, and this should not be precluded by logistical, technical or language barriers. The imperative of including key stakeholders should, however, be balanced against potential conservation costs of delaying a decision.


Base precautionary decision-making on the best available information, including that relating to human drivers of threats, and traditional and indigenous knowledge

Elaboration: All relevant information should be taken into account, including that relating to human drivers of threats to biodiversity, as well as biological and ecological information. The best available scientific information should be used. In addition, traditional and indigenous knowledge and practices may also be relevant and should therefore be taken into account in decision-making.

Efforts should be made to ensure evidence and information is independent, free of bias, and gathered in a transparent fashion. This can be facilitated by ensuring it is gathered by independent and publicly accountable institutions without conflict of interest. In addition, taking into account multiple sources of information can help minimise bias.



Characterise the threat(s), and assess the uncertainties surrounding the ecological, social and economic drivers of changes in conservation status.

Elaboration: The threats addressed should include not only direct ones but also indirect, secondary and long-term threats, and the incremental impacts of multiple or repeated actions or decisions. Their underlying causes and potential severity should be assessed, and efforts made to determine what is known and not known, what knowledge can be easily improved and what cannot. There should be explicit recognition of ignorance, areas of uncertainty, gaps in information, and limitations of the statistical power of available methods for detecting threats. Where threats may interact or be inter-related (e.g. action against one may exacerbate another) they should not be addressed in isolation. However, there is a need to balance the benefits of delaying a decision to gather more information against the potential threats raised by such a delay.


Identify the available actions to address threats, and assess the likely consequences of these various courses of action and inaction

Elaboration: The principle should guide a constructive search for alternatives and practical solutions, and support positive measures to anticipate, prevent and mitigate threats. The potential benefits and threats raised by available courses of action and inaction should be assessed -- these threats and benefits may be of various kinds, from various sources, and may be short or long term. There may be threats associated with all courses of action: often conservation and NRM decisions involve a choice between "risk and risk" rather than between "risk and caution". In assessing the likely consequences of alternative courses of action and inaction the technical feasibility of different approaches should be taken into account.


Allocate roles and responsibilities for providing information and evidence of threat and/or safety according to who is proposing a potentially harmful activity, who benefits from it, and who has access to information and resources

Elaboration: In general, those who propose and/or derive benefits from an activity which raises threats of serious or irreversible harm should bear the responsibility and costs of providing evidence that those activities are, in fact, safe. The information itself should be the best available from a variety of sources (see Guideline 5). However, if this would involve requiring poorer, vulnerable or marginal groups to carry the responsibility and costs of showing that their activities (particularly traditional and/or livelihood activities) do not raise threats, either these responsibilities and costs should be placed on relatively more powerful groups, or financial/technical support should be provided. Moreover, in some circumstances, the different options available will each raise potentially significant conservation threats, in which case the guidance for assessing threats in Guideline 7 is relevant.


Guideline 9: BE EXPLICIT

Specify that precautionary measures are being taken and be explicit about the uncertainty to which the precautionary measures are responding.

Elaboration: When decisions are made in situations of uncertainty, it is important to be explicit about the uncertainty that is being responded to, and to be explicit that precautionary measures are being taken. This ensures transparency, and also provides a clear basis for monitoring and feedback to decision-making/management.


In applying the Precautionary Principle adopt measures that are proportionate to the potential threats

Elaboration: A reasonable balance must be struck between the stringency of the precautionary measures, which may have associated costs (inter alia financial, livelihood and opportunity costs) and the seriousness and irreversibility of the potential threat. It should be borne in mind that countries, communities or other constituencies may have the right to establish their own chosen level of protection for their own biodiversity and natural resources.

Guideline 11: BE EQUITABLE

Consider social and economic costs and benefits when applying the Precautionary Principle and where decisions would have negative impacts on the poor or vulnerable explore ways to avoid or mitigate these

Elaboration: Attention should be directed to who benefits and who loses from any decisions, and particular attention should be paid to the consequences of decisions for groups which are already poor or vulnerable. Where the benefits of an existing or proposed threatening activity accrue only to a few, or only to the already powerful and economically advantaged, or are only short-term, and potential costs are borne by the public and communities, by poorer or vulnerable groups, or over the long-term, this argues strongly in favour of increased precaution. If the application of precautionary measures would impact negatively on poor or vulnerable groups, ways to avoid or mitigate impacts on these groups should be explored. Threats to biodiversity and living natural resources may need to be weighed against potential threats to livelihoods and food security, or resources may need to be invested in compensation or in support for alternative livelihoods.


Guideline 12: BE ADAPTIVE

Use an adaptive management approach, including the following core elements:

** monitoring of impacts of management or decisions based on agreed indicators; o promoting research, to reduce key uncertainties; o ensuring periodic evaluation of the outcomes of implementation, drawing of lessons and review and adjustment, as necessary, of the measures or decisions adopted; o establishing an efficient and effective compliance system. Elaboration: An adaptive approach is particularly useful in the implementation of the Precautionary Principle as it does not necessarily require having a high level of certainty about the impact of management measures before taking action, but involves taking such measures in the face of uncertainty, as part of a rigorously planned and controlled trial, with careful monitoring and periodic review to provide feedback, and amendment of decisions in the light of new information.

Applying the Precautionary Principle may sometimes require strict prohibition of activities. This is particularly likely in situations where urgent measures are required to avert imminent threats, where the threatened damage is likely to be immediately irreversible (such as the spread of an invasive species), where particularly vulnerable species or ecosystems are concerned, and where other measures are likely to be ineffective. This situation is often the result of a failure to apply more moderate measures at an earlier stage.

As precautionary measures are taken in the face of uncertainty and inadequate evidence surrounding potential threats to the environment, their application should be accompanied by monitoring and regular review, both to examine whether knowledge and understanding of the threat has increased, and to examine the effectiveness of the precautionary measure in addressing the threat. Any new information gained through monitoring and further research or information- gathering can then be fed back to inform further management and decision-making. While in some cases this may lead to the precautionary measure no longer being needed, in others it may lead to the determination that the threat is more serious than expected and that more stringent measures are required.

If meaningful participation by stakeholders/rightholders is ensured throughout the process for implementing the Precautionary Principle, compliance is likely to be higher. The costs of compliance should be borne by the parties with the capacity to do it and at the least cost to society. Customary practices and social structures should be considered and, where appropriate, incorporated into the compliance scheme.

The management programme should be consistent with the available resource-base (monetary and non-monetary). Governments, private organizations, communities and individuals can contribute to this base. In determining this base, managers should consider the relative benefits to the relevant parties. Resources must be employed efficiently and tasks should be supportive of the management programme.


From: GreenConsumerGuide.org ..............................[This story printer-friendly]
November 24, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Wildlife conservationists are criticizing a recent decision by the European Union to ignore scientific advice and continue to allow fishing for orange roughy and blue ling in the North Atlantic. They charge that the precautionary principle is being applied selectively.]

The EU's [European Union's] decision to allow continued fishing of deepwater stocks has been slammed by WWF [World Wildlife Fund], who claim that the move undermines efforts to ensure sustainability with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Under the new proposals, species including orange roughy and blue ling have had quotas set, in spite of scientific advice to close their fisheries completely.

The decision also comes after the EU backed the closure of the orange roughy fishery in international waters at the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) meeting last week.

"The EU seems to have a double standard for deep sea fisheries in its waters and outside -- this is not coherent," commented Paul King, WWF's Director of Campaigns. "The precautionary principle should not be applicable wherever convenient but to all deep sea fisheries."

The UK, along with Sweden, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Estonia, expressed their opposition to weakening the original proposals -- a move that was welcomed by the conservation group.

"While the outcome is not good news for deepwater stocks, the stance of the blocking minority countries is to be congratulated in facing up to those Member State who were keen to see even weaker proposals go through," added Helen McLachlan, WWF Fisheries Officer. "Perhaps the tide is turning as people acknowledge the parlous state our seas are in and the action that is required to turn them around."


From: Environmental News Network (ENN) ....................[This story printer-friendly]
November 20, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: All the scientific advancements in risk assessment of the past 20 years are becoming overshadowed by biomonitoring, the capability to measure low levels of specific toxicants (or their breakdown products) in humans, typically urine or blood.]

By Dr. Gary Ginsberg

Nearly 25 years after the National Academies of Science codified the practice of environmental risk assessment with their 1983 "Red Book", this relatively young field now comes to a critical stage in its maturation.

As the key scientific method that underlies toxics regulations, the manner in which risk assessment is conducted is not trivial. Since 1983 it has gone through many refinements, from beginnings in crude, high dose animal tests, it has advanced to increasingly more sophisticated procedures that tell us how toxicants behave in animals and are likely to act in people. The newer models forecast dose and toxicity in young children, pregnant women and those whose metabolism may be deficient due to their unique genetic makeup. But all these advances are becoming overshadowed by biomonitoring, the capability to measure low levels of specific toxicants (or their breakdown products) in humans, typically urine or blood.

Why is this such an important breakthrough and why is it putting risk assessment at a precarious crossroads? First and foremost, biomonitoring is teaching us that the old adage "What goes around, comes around" is especially pertinent to toxic chemicals. It has taught us this lesson many times as specialty chemicals that were meant to stay in consumer products (e.g., flame retardants, Teflon coating, plasticizers) end up inside us, likely from in utero onwards.

This greatly raises the stakes for risk assessment because we're not just talking about possible exposures to theoretical receptors at some point in the future, but exposures happening right now to real people from whom we've just taken some blood. The October 2006 National Geographic spread on biomonitoring highlights the finding of many chemicals in one reporter's blood, with his levels of brominated flame retardants much higher than typical. Certainly he and the rest of the public want to know where all this exposure is coming from, what it means to one's health, and why aren't there answers given that most chemicals found have been used for decades. Everyone is taking a long look at risk assessment for answers.

As pointed out in a new National Academy report on biomonitoring (NAS, 2006), there is good news -- the techniques exist. But the bad news is that we are just starting to use them effectively, and even in those cases, there is a question of whether we will believe the results.

Ironically, one of the main techniques for anwering the questions raised by biomonitoring is... biomonitoring itself. Why use biomonitoring just to search for chemicals? Why not also use it to tell us whether people with lots of a chemical have more health problems than those who don't. This is the arena of epidemiology, a field that has many obstacles to overcome because people are much more difficult to study than lab rats.

One of its main difficulties is determining the level of exposure in study populations. Good biomonitoring data remove that mystery and puts epidemiology squarely on the path of dose-response and risk assessment. With more and more biomarkers available, epidemiologists can test all sorts of hypotheses, and are now finding plausible links between low dose chemical exposure and toxic effects in people. Risk assessors are typically toxicologists, trained in the highly artificial but well-controlled world of animal testing. Are risk assessors ready to embrace the new wave of epidemiology that is showing us that the controlled lab study may not tell us everything we need to know about risk?

Hopefully the answer is yes. It was yes for lead and mercury, cases in which biomonitoring in combination with decades of human testing showed clear risks at low dose, driving lead from paint and gasoline and causing us to warn pregnant women to cut down on fish consumption.

The new wave that's emerging is showing us that low levels of life's common ingredients, from phthalates present in cosmetics to a newly discovered dietary contaminant that's also in rockets and bombs (perchlorate), have the potential to impair fetal development (Swan, et al., 2005; Blount, et al., 2006). These findings are at low dose levels, commonly experienced by average Americans.

The greater sensitivity of human testing may be related to the fact that if we test enough people with biomonitoring-based epidemiology, we will find a sensitive subgroup if it exists. Animals used in toxicology testing are highly inbred so they are in another universe when it comes to variability. CDC's new findings with perchlorate are instructive: men and most women were insensitive to this chemical. However, the subgroup of women with compromised iodine intake were affected. These types of findings throw risk assessment into the crossroads of biomonitoring -- does it embrace these new findings and accept the caveats and uncertainties involved in human population testing, or does it stick to the better controlled laboratory studies, which as we are now finding out may be less sensitive than we had originally believed.

The pendulum in recent years has been swinging towards epidemiology for dose response information, limiting animal testing to demonstrate plausibility and mechanism. The cases of phthalates and perchlorate will show whether regulators are ready to fully accept the biomonitoring-based risk assessment paradigm, testing their resolve because it may mean more stringent regulation of cosmetics (phthalates, as already being done in Europe) and the diet and drinking water (perchlorate). The challenge for risk assessors will be to use biomonitoring data responsibly to protect public health and not let this new crossroads become bogged down by inaction and gridlock.


Blount, B. et al. (2006) Urinary Perchlorate and Thyroid Hormone Levels in Adolescent and Adult Men and Women Living in the United States Environ Health Perspect: doi:10.1289/ehp.9466. [Online 5 October 2006]

National Academy Science (2006) Human Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals. National Academy Press.

Swan, S. et al. (2005) Decrease in anogenital distance among male infants with prenatal phthalate exposure. Environ Health Perspect. 113:1056-61.

Dr. Gary Ginsberg is co-author of What's Toxic, What's Not (Berkley Books, pub date 12/05/06) and is a toxicologist at the Connecticut Department of Public Health. He is on the faculty of Yale University and the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. He served on the NAS Panel on Biomonitoring and currently serves on several other NAS and EPA panels. For more information go to www.whatstoxic.com.

Copyright 2006 The Environmental News Network, Inc.


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Precaution Reporter send a blank Email to one of these addresses:

Full HTML edition: join-rpr-html@gselist.org
Table of Contents edition: join-rpr-toc@gselist.org


Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160
New Brunswick, N.J. 08901