A round table discussion on the role of the precautionary principle in natural resource management was held at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa, August 2002. The main focus was the perspective of developing countriesA summary of a presentation by South African scientist Doug Butterworth is included:
Following a brief outline of the PP's history and application in the context of fisheries, Doug Butterworth (University of Cape Town) looked at what action should be taken in cases of uncertainty. He emphasised that the recommended catch should not be based on the best estimates of sustainable yield alone, but should take the level of uncertainty into account. The greater the uncertainty the lower the recommended catch should be. This is the basic idea of the precautionary approach and it is incorporated into the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. But in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) it is stated that in cases of uncertainty, Parties should act "in the best interest of the conversation of the species". In theory, applying this rule would always result in the worst-case scenario to be used as a basis for decision-making. In reality, however, this was not the case, he argued. Instead, decision-making usually involved a quantification of risk and a comparison with some acceptable level of risk. This approach was, for example, reflected in the IUCN Red List, which called for a "precautionary but realistic" attitude to uncertainty. He concluded by expressing concern that the PP, in absence of a proper definition and necessary quantification, had developed into a slogan by those that wanted less or no utilisation of natural resources. Instead, science-based decision-making was required that took into account uncertainty, in order to find a sensible middle ground between the proponents and opponents of "sustainable utilisation".Something to bear in mind.
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