Austria presents report on conclusions of 2001 Vienna Conference on role of precaution in chemicals policy

February 21, 2002

Brussels, 20 February 2002

International Conference "The Role of Precaution in Chemicals Policy" (Vienna ­ November 2001) ­ Intervention by the Austrian Delegation. Cover note from General Secretariat to Delegations. Brussels, 18 February 2002 (document 6250/02 ENV 79 IND 14 WTO 12 ENT 36). Full text

Delegations will find attached a note from the Austrian delegation on the abovementioned subject which will be dealt with at the Council (Environment) on 4 March 2002 under "Other business".

In November 2001 the International Conference "The role of Precaution in Chemicals Policy" was held in Vienna. It brought together representatives of international organisations, European institutions, NGOs, industry, trading organisations, consumers' associations, scientists and authorities from twenty-eight countries.

The main goal of the Conference was to discuss the current status of the Precautionary Principle in law and to scrutinise its further application in the area of chemicals policy. The Conference did not aim at establishing a particular definition of the Precautionary Principle, which would apply in general but its status and application. The Precautionary Principle was understood both as underlying political guideline and as an element of the decision-making processes, used by all relevant actors.

The Conference Conclusions done by the Chairs received a lot of support. In particular an informal meeting of senior chemicals policy EU officials, held in The Hague, Netherlands, requested to make use of the key results deriving from the Conclusions of the Vienna Conference as an EU-Input for the World Summit in Johannesburg.

Austria therefore would like to present the Conclusions of the Vienna Conference to the Council.

"THE ROLE OF PRECAUTION IN CHEMICALS POLICY"
Thursday Nov. 15th and Friday Nov. 16th 2001, Diplomatic Academy, Vienna

Conference Conclusions by the Chairs

The main goal of the Conference was to discuss the current status of the Precautionary Principle in law and to scrutinise its further application in the area of chemicals policy. The Conference did not aim at establishing a particular definition of the Precautionary Principle, which would apply in general. It discussed ­ based on recent international and regional practice ­ the status and application of the Precautionary Principle. The starting points of the discussions were examples of the formulation and application of the precautionary principle in different areas of environmental policy. The Precautionary Principle was understood both as underlying political guideline and as an element of the decision-making processes, used by all relevant actors.

No conflicting or contradicting understanding concerning the triggering factor for the application of the Precautionary Principle (uncertain risk) was identified.

A crucial item, which was raised in the presentations, related to the consequences of triggering this principle: if the circumstances for the application of PRECAUTION are given, do they require subsequent measures? The answer does of course depend on the relevant legal background of each case. In any case at least continued monitoring and even increased awareness were required.

In case of a legal framework, having PRECAUTION as inherent PRINCIPLE ­ as is the case for the EU framework in particular with regard to chemicals - the mandatory character is widened to a remarkable extent. The application of the Precautionary Principle in this respect directly mandates adequate risk reducing measures.

In order to increase the legal certainty of the application of the precautionary principle, in particular to ensure compliance with WTO rules, it was underlined that the circumstances under which the Precautionary Principle will trigger action should be elaborated; the measures based on the Precautionary Principle need adequate specification in order to permit the operation of a transparent compliance regime.

In this context, other principles of international environmental law, such as the principles of prevention and sustainable development have to be taken into consideration. The factors, which allow the application of the Precautionary Principle, should be adequately specified.

Within the context of chemicals policy it was postulated that rather than trying to elaborate the Precautionary Principle in a general manner, priority should be given to the establishment of transparent and effective implementation systems, confining possible disputes to a limited area or to specific chemicals.

Lack of certainty - as an agreed precondition for precautionary action - could lead to phasing out of substances or uses but could at the same time hamper substitution by alternatives because their properties are often even less well documented. There was broad consensus that pre-marketing measures ensuring the availability of an adequate set of information were seen as the prerequisite for overcoming this deadlock.

Ideally, the Precautionary Principle is incorporated into a legislative context that sees to generate adequate data prior to production and marketing of a chemical or a product.

There was broad agreement that there is no contradiction or inherent conflict between science and precaution. Moreover, the conference came to the conclusion that precautionary decision-making had to be embedded into a transparent process, ensuring the involvement of stakeholders thus allowing for optimised exchange of information and decision-making. A transparent system open for all inputs ­ including those from scientists ­ increases the quality of decisions taken.

Science can contribute to identify elements of qualitative or quantitative uncertainty and thereby contribute to sound decision-making.

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