The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Precautionary Principle

  • Christian Gollier
  • Nicolas Treich
Reference work entry


The precautionary principle (PP), as it appears in international treaties or in some countries’ legal systems, suggests that the prospect of scientific progress should not justify the delay of preventive measures. Three effects identified in the economics literature – the irreversibility, the precautionary and the ambiguity aversion effects – may be consistent with the normative content of the PP. A difficult question is how then the PP can be implemented. Several social actors may want to take advantage of a current lack of scientific evidence to promote their own interests. The PP can also be misused, for example, for demagogy or protectionism.


Ambiguity and ambiguity aversion Asymmetric information Availability heuristic Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000) Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) Convention on Climate Change (1992) Environmental economics Irreversibility effect Maastricht Treaty (EU) Precautionary effect Precautionary principle Protection Risk Risk perception Scientific progress Scientific uncertainty 

JEL Classifications

D81 Q50 H43 C44 
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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Gollier
    • 1
  • Nicolas Treich
    • 1
  1. 1.