The Rio Declaration:
Principle 15 - the Precautionary Approach

n 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.

International developments

80. Principle 15 codified for the first time at the global level the precautionary approach, which indicates that lack of scientific certainty is no reason to postpone action to avoid potentially serious or irreversible harm to the environment. Central to principle 15 is the element of anticipation, reflecting a requirement that effective environmental measures need to be based upon actions which take a long-term approach and which might anticipate changes on the basis of scientific knowledge.

81. Incorporation of the precautionary approach can be found in various international legal instruments. For example, the 1995 Agreement on Fish Stocks adopts the precautionary approach in article 6, and its article 5 (c) states that the application of the precautionary approach is one of the general principles of the Agreement; see also annex II to the Agreement, "Guidelines for the application of precautionary reference points in conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks". The precautionary approach is also included in the ninth preambular paragraph of the Convention on Biological Diversity; in article 3.3 of the Convention on Climate Change; and in annex II, article 3 (3) (c), of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic. The 1996 Protocol to the London Dumping Convention states, in article 3.1: "In implementing this protocol, Contracting Parties shall apply a precautionary approach to environmental protection ... when there is reason to believe that wastes or other matter introduced in the marine environment are likely to cause harm even when there is no conclusive evidence to prove a causal relation between inputs and their effects". In its second preambular paragraph, the evolution within the London Convention towards approaches based on precaution and prevention is noted. The precautionary principle is one of the bases for community policy on the environment of the European Union.

82. Several codes which include the precautionary approach have been developed, inter alia, the 1994 Code of Practice on the Introduction and Transfer of Marine Organisms, by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas; Guidelines for Preventing the Introduction of Unwanted Aquatic Organisms and Pathogens from Ships' Ballast Water and Sediment Discharges, by IMO; and FAO's Guidelines on the Precautionary Approach to Capture Fisheries and Species Introduction.

83. The precautionary principle has been invoked before the International Court of Justice. Judge Weeramantry in his opinion dissenting from the Order of the Court of 22 September 1995 concluded that the precautionary principle was gaining increasing support as part of the international law of the environment.

National implementation and examples

84. The precautionary approach is widely accepted as a fundamental concept of national environmental laws and regulations in order to protect the environment. It is elaborated, for instance, in the Water Law and Planning Law of Israel, in the Environmental Protection Act of the Czech Republic, and is included in numerous draft environmental laws currently under consideration - for example in the Pakistan draft environmental protection act of 1996.

85. The precautionary approach is also increasingly applied in court decisions - for example, in a decision of the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia, in which the Court stated that although there had been express references to what is called the "precautionary principle" since the 1970s, international endorsement had occurred only in recent years. Indeed, the principle had been referred to in almost every recent international environmental agreement. As a result, the Court upheld the appeal by the applicant and refused a license. A number of cases have been built on and approved this decision since.

86. In 1994, the Supreme Court of Pakistan quoted principle 15, holding that it seemed reasonable to take preventive measures straight away instead of maintaining the status quo because there was no conclusive finding on the effect of electromagnetic fields on human life.

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