Precautionary principle

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The precautionary principle is a principle of environmental and health policy ; according to this, the conceivable pollution or damage to the environment or human health should be avoided or reduced as far as possible in advance (despite an incomplete knowledge base). It thus serves as a risk or hazard prevention ( -> risk management ).

There is no uniform definition of the term.

In contrast to the precautionary principle, there is the follow-up principle (also known as the "risk principle"), according to which scientifically verifiable risks should be considered. In a broader sense, the precautionary principle is also used in areas outside of the two policy areas mentioned, e.g. B. in security policy .


The declaration of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 specifies the precautionary principle in Chapter 35, Paragraph 3 of Agenda 21 :

“Given the risk of irreversible damage to the environment, a lack of complete scientific certainty should not be used as an excuse to delay action that is in itself justified. The precautionary approach could serve as a starting point for measures that relate to complex systems that have not yet been fully understood and for which the consequences of disruptions cannot yet be predicted. "

The precautionary principle aims to take preventive action despite a lack of certainty regarding the type, extent or probability of occurrence of possible damage cases in order to avoid this damage from the outset. Or, to put it in the words of the philosopher Hans Jonas :

"To give the bad prognosis priority over the good, is responsible action with regard to future generations."


The precautionary principle found its way into politics in the early 1970s. In 1971 it was laid down in the Federal Government's first environmental program as a central environmental policy principle. Since the 1980s, the precautionary principle has increasingly found its way into international environmental policy. So it was included in the World Charter for Nature ( Earth Charter ) of 1982 adopted by the UN General Assembly . The Swiss Environmental Protection Act mentions it in the purpose article as paragraph 2: "In the sense of precaution, effects that could be harmful or annoying must be limited at an early stage." Furthermore, it is in the Treaty establishing the European Community of 1992 and in the Rio- Declaration on Environment and Development ( Agenda 21 ) from 1992 included. The precautionary principle can be found in Art. 191 TFEU and was incorporated into European law by the Maastricht Treaty . The EU chemicals policy states in Regulation EC No. 1907/2006 (REACH-VO) in Article 1 (aim and scope) that the provisions of the REACH-VO are based on the precautionary principle.

Principles for applying the precautionary principle

Authorized by the precautionary principle, the application of the law may act, although it is not certain that the act serves the interests of protection. Every decision based on it is final and not just provisional, despite the incomplete knowledge base. There is no generally binding definition of the precautionary principle. For the European community policy and the policies of the member states based on it, however, the communication of the European Commission on the applicability of the precautionary principle provides a common framework that is in accordance with the political discussions at the international level.

There, three principles were formulated for the application of the precautionary principle:

  1. The application of the principle should be based on the most comprehensive scientific assessment possible, which also determines the extent of the scientific uncertainty
  2. Before making any decision for or against an activity, the risks and possible consequences of inactivity should be assessed
  3. As soon as the results of the scientific evaluation and / or the risk assessment are available, all stakeholders should be involved in the investigation of the various risk management options.


The simplest criticism of the precautionary principle suggests that resources are limited and it is therefore not possible to take action against all potential risks, as these generally come at a cost. It is also often argued that many important technologies that enable people to live more comfortable or healthier lives would not have become established had they been subject to the precautionary principle (such as antibiotics or cars). The American legal scholar and economist Cass Sunstein differentiates between the various formulations of the precautionary principle. While there are versions “to which no reasonable person could object”, he opposes too strong or narrow formulations of the principle. He argues that the precautionary principle in a narrow formulation or interpretation can no longer serve as a decision-making basis for regulatory action, since every possible option for action entails risks and the precautionary principle in a narrow interpretation would therefore exclude all options. According to Sunstein, it has been shown "that the precautionary principle in its narrowest form is incoherent and that there are clearly identifiable characteristics of human thinking that falsely give it the appearance of providing orientation." In security policy, the application of the precautionary principle is particularly problematic, because an excessive risk perception in the public (e.g. after terrorist attacks) can lead to an excessive and disproportionate restriction of civil rights .

Negotiations on free trade agreements

This regulation contradicts the scientific principle applicable in the United States and Canada and is therefore a point of discussion in the secret negotiations on the planned Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).


  • Thomas Derungs: Selective Blindness. Public fears and precautionary safety decisions . In: Forum Law . No. 3 , 2008, p. 101-103 ( [PDF]).
  • European Environment Agency (Ed.): Late Lessons from Early Warnings. The Precautionary Principle 1896-2000 (=  Environmental Issue Report . Volume 22 ). 2002, ISBN 92-9167-323-4 (English, ).
  • European Environment Agency / Federal Environment Agency (Ed.): Late lessons from early warnings. The precautionary principle 1896–2000 . ( [PDF]).
  • Poul Harremoës, David Gee, Malcolm MacGarvin, Andy Stirling, Jane Keys, Brian Wynne, Sofia Guedes Vaz (Eds.): The Precautionary Principle in the 20th Century. Late Lessons from Early Warnings . Earthscan, London / New York 2002, ISBN 978-1-85383-892-7 (English, Review: Nature . Volume 419, October 2002, p. 433).
  • Werner Miguel Kühn: The development of the precautionary principle in European law. In: Journal for European Law Studies. Volume 4, 2006, pp. 487-520.
  • David Magnus: Risk Management versus the Precautionary Principle. Agnotology as a Strategy in the Debate over Genetically Engineered Organisms . In: Robert N. Proctor , Londa Schiebinger (Ed.): Agnotology . The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance . Stanford University Press, Stanford 2008, pp. 250-265 (English).
  • Gary E. Marchant, Kenneth L. Mossman: Arbitrary and Capricious. The Precautionary Principle in the European Union Courts . American Enterprise Institute Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8447-4189-2 (English, PDF ( Memento of October 1, 2009 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Kai Peter Purnhagen: The Behavioral Law and Economics of the Precautionary Principle in the EU and its Impact on Internal Market Regulation (=  Wageningen Working Papers in Law and Governance . Volume 2013/04 ). October 23, 2013, doi : 10.2139 / ssrn.2344356 (English).
  • Cass R. Sunstein: Laws of Fear. Beyond the Precautionary Principle . Cambridge University Press, New York 2005, ISBN 0-521-84823-7 (English, German: Laws of fear. Beyond the precautionary principle. Suhrkamp, ​​2007, ISBN 3-518-58479-0 ).
  • Umweltbundesamt (Germany) (Ed.), February 2004: Late lessons from early warnings: The precautionary principle 1896-2000 . ( Download & Link to English version in the EU Bookshop )
  • Sascha Werner: The precautionary principle. Basics, standards and limitations . In: Environmental and Planning Law . tape 21 , no. 9 , 2001, ISSN  0721-7390 , p. 335-340 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Cass R. Sunstein: Laws of fear. Beyond the precautionary principle . 1st edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-518-58479-8 , pp. 300 ff .
  2. ^ The principle of responsibility , p. 70; quoted from Hermann H. Hahn and Thomas W. Holstein: Risk and responsibility in modern society. Springer Spectrum, 2014, p. 8.
  3. Art. 1, Paragraph 2, Federal Act of 7 October 1983 on Environmental Protection. (Environmental Protection Act, USG, SR 814.01).
  4. European Commission: Communication from the Commission of February 2, 2000 on the applicability of the precautionary principle .
  5. ^ A b Cass R. Sunstein: Laws of fear. Beyond the precautionary principle . 1st edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-518-58479-8 , pp. 42 .
  6. John D. Graham: Decision-analytic refinements of the precautionary principle . In: Journal of Risk Research . tape 4 , 2001, p. 127 ff ., doi : 10.1080 / 13669870010005590 (English).
  7. ^ Sandy Starr: spiked-risk | Article | Science, risk and the price of precaution. In: Retrieved December 27, 2018 .
  8. ^ Julian Morris: Defining the Precautionary Principle . In: Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle . Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000, ISBN 978-0-7506-4683-3 , pp. 1–21 (English).
  9. Cass R. Sunstein: Laws of fear. Beyond the precautionary principle . 1st edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-518-58479-8 , pp. 32 .
  10. Cass R. Sunstein: Laws of fear. Beyond the precautionary principle . 1st edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-518-58479-8 , pp. 158 .
  11. a b Study: How TTIP and CETA undermine the precautionary principle , foodwatch , June 21, 2016.
  12. Katharina Grimm: TTIP Leak: What you need to know about the free trade agreement . In: . May 2, 2016