Policymaking under conditions of uncertainty

The precautionary principle is most often taken to be that stated in Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development: "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation".

Much has been written on the interpretation and use of the precautionary principle, with debate often around "how much" damage is relevant and what constitutes full scientific certainty. These questions are sharper when uncertainty is substantial.

Many unavoidable types of uncertainty are attached to forecasting the potentially serious effects of global climate change. The world's environment and climate systems may change irreversibly. Thus, the precautionary principle is manifestly relevant to global climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion because of the potentially serious nature of their effects on health.

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