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Precautionary Principle

( Article Type: Explanation )

This principle argues that if the environmental consequences of a particular project, proposal or course of action are uncertain, then the project, proposal or course of action should not be undertaken. It is sometimes possible in these circumstances to use predictive tools such as risk assessments, to make value judgements in the absence of full information. In cases where there is poor communication between project developers and interested and affected parties, the precautionary principle is often well advised. If, however, there is trust between the various stakeholders, then it is often possible to make decisions without the fullest of information being available and based upon the professional judgements and opinions of the experts involved. Calculated risk is the basis of advances in science and technology, as an over-cautious policy could stifle any advances to the detriment of society as a whole. South African environmental policy and legislation now have the precautionary principle and the principle of polluter pays firmly entrenched within their structures. This means that should the officials have any doubt regarding the environmental merits or demerits of a proposal, they can apply the precautionary principle and delay development or formal legislative approval, pending further investigations or evidence. For a position paper on the Precautionary Principle, go to