The precautionary principle

There is considerable disagreement about the effects of global warming. Few climate scientists doubt that releasing greenhouse gases will cause temperatures to rise, but they do not agree about the extent of the rise. This depends on the sensitivity of the climate to small changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. If the climate is very sensitive there will be a relatively large temperature rise. If it is not so sensitive the rise will be smaller—and perhaps too small to cause any harm. It also depends on the extent to which the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide changes and this depends on many factors. It is not impossible that the concentration might peak before it produces any major climate change and then remain constant or even fall.

This is not the first time politicians have been asked to make decisions on the basis of inadequate information and they have devised a way to deal with the issue. They invoke the precautionary principle. This states that if a proposed innovation or change might possibly prove harmful to human health or to the natural environment, then it should be forbidden. Critics of the precautionary principle warn that it is capable of preventing any kind of change and that it would be more sensible to balance the harm against the benefit the innovation or change is likely to bring. Clearly the principle has to be implemented with caution.

In the case of climate change, the decision to apply the precautionary principle was taken at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development—the "Rio Summit" or "Earth Summit"—held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That conference led to the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an agreement by governments to devise ways of preventing or at least limiting climate change. After several further meetings, this led to a protocol to the convention that set targets for reducing emissions (see the sidebar).

Renewable Energy Eco Friendly

Renewable Energy Eco Friendly

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable.

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