Precaution and proportionality in the management of global environmental change

Terrence Iverson, Charles Perrings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The precautionary principle is a mandate to tread cautiously when managing novel threats to the environment or human health. A major obstacle when applying the principle at the international level is disagreement about how precautionary efforts should be constrained to ensure that policy costs are proportional to the attained level of protection. Proportionality is an unresolved question when preliminary evidence precludes decision-makers from assigning probabilities over future events. The paper suggests practical analytical tools for communicating ex ante trade-offs when probabilities are unavailable. The tools could be used to facilitate discussion and compromise when implementing precautionary decisions in international settings where cooperation is important. The approach is demonstrated in an application to climate policy that uses the integrated assessment model DICE (Nordhaus, 2008). The paper also situates the task of precautionary decision-making within the broader context of implementing a precautionary response at the international level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-177
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • Climate change
  • Decisions under uncertainty
  • Environmental externality
  • Global environmental change
  • Multilateral environmental agreements
  • Precautionary principle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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