Overline: Systemic Risks
Headline: Reconciling Innovation and Precaution: IASS Researchers Report to the European Commission

The precautionary principle aims to anticipate and prevent hazards to the environment and human health from arising. It plays an important role in environmental and consumer protection and in the regulation of domestic markets, for example in the approval of products and processes. The challenge of reconciling this principle with efforts to foster innovation is the subject of ongoing debate in European politics and business communities. Researchers at the IASS have now presented their findings to the European Commission.

One of the RECIPES case studies discusses emerging gene editing technologies (CRISPR-Cas9).
One of the RECIPES case studies discusses emerging gene editing technologies (CRISPR-Cas9). Shutterstock/elenabsl

Funded under the European Union's Horizon 2020 Programme for Research and Innovation, the RECIPES research project, in which the IASS is a partner, has developed new case studies to examine the interactions of science and innovation. The range of case studies span emerging gene editing technologies (CRISPR-Cas9), genetically modified organisms (GMOs), endocrine disruptors, neonicotinoid insecticides, nanotechnology, glyphosate, financial risks in water infrastructure planning, artificial intelligence in health care, and microplastics in cosmetics. "We work closely with a range of stakeholders in the RECIPES project to ensure that the precautionary principle is applied in the development of guidelines and tools in a way that supports responsible innovation", explains Pia-Johanna Schweizer, Research Group Leader at the IASS.

In their report to the European Commission, the research team highlights three key insights:

  • Scientific uncertainties present an especially difficult challenge for decision-makers. Nevertheless, it is important that they are acknowledged in risk assessments. There is therefore a need for integrative risk governance frameworks that connect risk analysis, assessment, and management, provide guidance on addressing uncertainties, and support both a precautionary approach while fostering responsible innovation.
  • Transdisciplinary networks of knowledge can serve as trusted platforms of deliberation to identify, structure, and evaluate available information relating to emerging technologies.
  • A comparison of the case studies used in the research shows that the application of the precautionary principle had a positive effect on incremental innovation in many cases. Furthermore, its application often contributed to the emergence of alternative, more responsible innovation pathways, for example green chemistry, new crop protection technologies and non-chemical alternatives for pest control, green nanotechnology, and safe-by-design approaches in nanotechnologies.

In a next step the researchers will distil various policy recommendations from their findings, which will be published in an IASS Policy Brief. In addition, an IASS Study will be published on the comparison of the case studies.