Accounting for uncertainty: precautionary principle and indirect land-use change

June 11, 2013

This briefing paper by Tim Grabiel, senior lawyer at Defense Terre, centres on the precautionary principle and preventive action, two fundamental bedrocks of EU policy creation, and the need for them to be applied to the issue of indirect land-use change emissions from biofuels.

Precautionary principle is one of the main principles of European law. The Commission states that the “precautionary principle should be considered within a structured approach to the analysis of risk” and should be applied “when scientific uncertainty precludes a full assessment of the risk and when decision-makers consider that the chosen level of environmental protection… may be in jeopardy.”

In the case of the indirect land-use change (ILUC) linked with biofuels production, the Commission violated its legislative mandate. Despite multi-year evaluations yielding “the best available scientific evidence” on ILUC, the Commission hesitated, arguing that it could consider other options. The briefing concludes that in doing so, the Commission violates its legislative mandate and dismisses the precautionary principle – in the process raising fundamental inter-institutional issues between Parliament and the Commission and the democratic deficit in the EU. 

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