Precautionary Approach

A precautionary approach to addressing threats to the environment can be traced back to domestic German law in the 1970s.  It was first used in an international agreement in 1980.  However, it was at the1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development that it received broad  international recognition in the  Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of 1992 offsite link “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 be not used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” Principle 15, Rio Declaration.  The precautionary approach has been incorporated into several international treaties to which the United States is party, including:

    • 1998 LRTAP Persistent Organic Pollutants Protocol offsite link. “Resolved to take measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize emissions of persistent organic pollutants, taking into account the application of the precautionary approach, as set forth in principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,” Preamble. (U.S. signed offsite link on 6/24/1998, but the Senate has yet to give its advice and consent).

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