The principle of precautionary action has been presented by some of its advocates as nothing less than a monumental paradigm shift in environmental management. It is essentially a new legal response to the scientific uncertainties surrounding the capacity ofthe environment to cope with the increasing demands placed upon it. This article outlines why our knowledge of environmental processes is inadequate and addresses the rationale and content of the "precautionary principle", tracing its development from an uncontroversial espousal of commonsense to its emergence as a potentially forceful decision-making norm. It will be argued tliat although the principle has definitional and implementational shortcomings, it has the capacity to inform environmental practices systematically as the basis of a regulatory regime — not merely at the policy level.
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