Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Why further late lessons from early warnings?
The 2013 Late lessons from early warnings report is the second of its type produced by the European Environment Agency (EEA) in collaboration with a broad range of external authors and peer reviewers.

Volume 1 of Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896.2000 published in 2001, looked at the history of a selection of occupational, public health and environmental hazards and asked whether we could have been better at taking action early enough to prevent harm. Twelve key lessons for better decision.making were drawn from cases where public policy was formulated against a background of scientific uncertainty and 'surprises' . and where clear evidence of hazards to people and the environment was often ignored (see box on page 11).

The 14 case studies and 12 key lessons from the 2001 report remain highly pertinent today, and underline four main reasons for a second report. The first relates to expanding the late lessons approach to consider long.known, important additional issues with broad societal implications such as lead in petrol, mercury, environmental tobacco smoke and DDT, as well as issues from which lessons have emerged more recently such as the effects of the contraceptive pill on feminisation of fish and the impacts of insecticides on honeybees.

The second concerns filling an acknowledged gap in the 2001 report, by analysing the issue of false positives where government regulation was undertaken based on precaution but later turned out to be unnecessary. Most of the cases examined in the Late lessons from early warnings reports are 'false negatives' . instances where early warnings existed but no preventive actions were taken.

The third reason is to address the rapid emergence of new society‑wide challenges such as radiation from mobile phones, genetically‑modified products, nanotechnologies and invasive alien species as well as if, how and where precautionary actions can play a role.

The final reason relates to how precautionary approaches can help manage the fast‑changing, multiple, systemic challenges the world faces today, what new insights can be drawn in this context and how these can underpin opportunities for sustainable innovations and, supported by information technologies, greater public participation in their selection.

Overall approach
As for Volume 1, the approach in Volume 2 has been to include a wide range of relevant case studies produced by external authors along with chapters written by members of the report's editorial team (see acknowledgements section for details). The relevant topics for case study treatment were selected on the basis of advice from the editor, in collaboration with the editorial team and an advisory board, members of the EEA Scientific Committee and the Collegium Ramazzini (1).

The chapters in Volume 2 are grouped into five parts: A. Lessons from health hazards; B. Emerging lessons from ecosystems; C. Emerging issues; D. Costs, justice and innovation; and E. Implications for science and governance.

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