The precautionary principle and public environmental decision-making in South Africa : an ethical appraisal

Morodi, Thabiso John (2016-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The aim of this dissertation was to provide the foundations for building a new risk regulatory mechanism in environmental decision-making, which in most cases is influenced by an expert bias in decision-making (that excludes lay people, indigenous knowledge, affected parties and marginalised groups). With this framework, the aim is also to find common ground between scientific uncertainty and complexity in environmental decision-making. This dissertation investigated how the precautionary principle can be applied in concert with other decision-making theories such as qualitative risk assessment to prevent, but in some cases also to address, human-induced environmental catastrophes. Given the tension that exists between the scientific and ‘non-scientific’ communities, a methodology that looks at both options was investigated. The methodology employed in this dissertation was twofold: (I) Desktop research was conducted in which the divergent views of and argumentation by different scholars on the precautionary principle were interrogated and analysed and, secondly, (II) the precautionary principle was tested in a case study involving acid mine drainage and highlighting the implications that this approach could have had in environmental decision-making that seeks to protect human and environmental health. In the final analysis, the precautionary principle (PP) tests the application and validity of cost benefit analysis, quantitative risk assessment, environmental impact assessment, etc. by analysing those areas in which science is undoubtedly weakest (i.e. situations of uncertainty and complexity where environmental damage may be irreversible or potentially catastrophic). It is argued in this thesis that the PP is geared to uphold scientific objectivity and integrity in contexts of uncertainty and complexity, and to assist scientists and policymakers to tread carefully when implementing scientific decisions, particularly those that involve the environment, in order to ensure rationality and objectivity. Lastly, the proposed framework on ethical mining is outlined, helping to set the scene for future environmental decision-making and associated recommendations whose objectivity will help protect human health and the environment by taking uncertainty, complexity and public views into consideration, without side-lining science-based decisions.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die doel van hierdie proefskrif was om die grondslag te lê vir die samestelling van 'n nuwe risiko-regulerende meganisme vir omgewingsbesluitneming, wat in die meeste gevalle beïnvloed word deur die vooroordeel van deskundiges in besluitneming (waardeur die lekepubliek, inheemse kennis, geaffekteerde partye en gemarginaliseerde groepe uitgesluit word). Die doel van so ‘n raamwerk is ook om gemeenskaplike grond te vind tussen wetenskaplike onsekerhede en die kompleksiteit van omgewingsbesluitneming. Hierdie studie ondersoek hoe die voorsorgbeginsel (precautionary principle) saam met ander besluitnemingsteorieë soos kwalitatiewe risiko-assessering toegepas kan word om omgewingsrampe wat deur mense veroorsaak word, te voorkom, maar in sommige gevalle ook op te los. Gegewe die spanning tussen wetenskaplike en ‘nie-wetenskaplike’ gemeenskappe, is 'n metode wat beide opsies in ag neem, ondersoek. Die metodologie wat in hierdie proefskrif gebruik is, was tweeledig: (I) Akademiese navorsing is gedoen waarin die uiteenlopende standpunte en argumente van verskillende navorsers oor die voorsorgbeginsel ondersoek en ontleed is, en, tweedens, (II) die voorsorgbeginsel is getoets in 'n gevallestudie wat op die dreinering van suur mynwater gefokus het, en waarin die implikasies wat hierdie benadering kan hê in omgewingsbesluitneming wat poog om die gesondheid van die omgewing en mense te beskerm, beklemtoon is. Per slot van rekening toets die voorsorgbeginsel die toepassing en geldigheid van koste-voordeel-analise, kwantitatiewe risiko-assessering, omgewingsimpakstudies, ens. deur die ontleding van daardie terreine waarop die wetenskap ongetwyfeld die swakste is (d.w.s. gevalle van onsekerheid en kompleksiteit waar omgewingskade onherstelbaar of potensieel katastrofies is). Dit word in die proefskrif geargumenteer dat die voorsorgbeginsel daarop gerig is om wetenskaplike objektiwiteit en integriteit in die konteks van onsekerheid en kompleksiteit te handhaaf, en wetenskaplikes en beleidmakers te help om versigtig te werk te gaan wanneer wetenskaplike besluite uitgevoer word, veral dié wat ’n effek op die omgewing het, om daardeur rasionaliteit en objektiwiteit te verseker. Laastens word 'n raamwerk vir etiese mynbou voorgestel en omskryf, wat help om die grondslag te lê vir toekomstige besluitneming oor die omgewing. Die objektiwiteit van die aanbevelings wat hiermee gepaard gaan, sal bydra tot die beskerming van die gesondheid van mense en die omgewing deur onsekerheid, kompleksiteit en openbare menings in ag te neem, sonder om wetenskapsgebaseerde besluite opsy te stoot.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/98771
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