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Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896 – 2000 | Environmental issue report No 22

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To know and not to know. To act or not to act…?

The task of the European Envir­on­ment Agency (EEA) is to provide inform­a­tion of dir­ect use for improv­ing decision-mak­ing and pub­lic par­ti­cip­a­tion. We often provide inform­a­tion in situ­ations of sci­entif­ic uncer­tainty, in which the pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ciple, enshrined in the Treaty of the European Uni­on, is increas­ingly rel­ev­ant.

The grow­ing innov­at­ive powers of sci­ence seem to be out­strip­ping its abil­ity to pre­dict the con­sequences of its applic­a­tions, whilst the scale of human inter­ven­tions in nature increases the chances that any haz­ard­ous impacts may be ser­i­ous and glob­al. It is there­fore import­ant to take stock of past exper­i­ences, and learn how we can adapt to these chan­ging cir­cum­stances and improve our work, par­tic­u­larly in rela­tion to the pro­vi­sion of inform­a­tion and the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of early warn­ings.

Late les­sons from early warn­ings” is about the gath­er­ing of inform­a­tion on the haz­ards of human eco­nom­ic activ­it­ies and its use in tak­ing action to bet­ter pro­tect both the envir­on­ment and the health of the spe­cies and eco­sys­tems that are depend­ent on it, and then liv­ing with the con­sequences.