The precautionary principle is a type of risk management applied to situations when the evidence of risk is unproven scientifically. It is a case with genetic engineering, nanotechnoology, and similar recent inventions that can be properly investigated only in future. As a proverb says, better safe than sorry, and governments all over the world secured some form of precautionary principle in their legislation. It is frequently applied to issues of environmental protection and also to economic strategies. The precautionary principle is required in some areas of Law of the European Union. For the first time it appeared in Montreal Protocol, the document that addressed the depletion of the ozone layer. Other binding international treaties that concerned environmental damage such as the Rio Declaration and Kyoto Protocol were guided by the same principle.
Precautionary approach can be applied to a wide range of threats, but the most common are climate change, extinction of species, public health, and food safety. Some actions applied to these fields result in an immediate and dramatic change. Spillage of oil or industrial wastes, for example, is proven to damage environment so that precautions are obligatory. Nevertheless, there are more controversial impacts such as the effect of nanoparticles on human organism or the influence of genetic manipulations on further development of the fetus. The precautionary principle says that the actions shall not proceed if side effects are uncertain.
Precautions can be strong and weak. Strong precaution was introduced by the UN World Charter for Nature that eliminated a range of activities with little-known consequences. Weak precaution are applied whenever a significant damage can occur. People use weak precautions in everyday life, fastening their seatbelts and crossing the street on the green light.