Recently, the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) of UNESCO established an expert group on the Precautionary Principle in order to bring clarity in the multitude of definitions and interpretations of the PP. The final report as it was adopted at a UNESCO COMEST meeting in Bangkok, March 2005 is now available on the UNESCO website:
THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE
The report aims to reduce the gaps in the understanding of the principle and to clarify the PP for decision-makers and scientists in order to achieve a more informed debate of the principle and to serve as reference for possible further implementations of the PP.
The report sketches the history of the PP, reviews concepts and definitions of the PP and identifies common elements in the various definitions. On that basis a new working definition of the PP is presented. The ethical basis of the PP and the questions of responsibility, inter- and intra-generational equity and deliberative democracy are explored and legal issues discussed. Special focus is put on the characteristics of complex systems and the concepts of robustness and resilience as well as the multiple dimensions of uncertainty in scientific assessment. These uncertainties are at the heart of the PP. The concept of risk is dealt with and associated decision-making problems for which the PP can be helpful.
The report further addresses a range of application issues of the PP: implications of the PP for science, implications for policy and governance, implications for industry and trade and social and cultural implications of the PP.
The report is available in English and French.