Advancing a Free Society

The EU’s ‘Non-Regression’ Gambit

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Sept. 29, European parliamentarians adopted a resolution calling for next June's United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro to demand that all nations adhere to the "principle of non-regression." In a nutshell, the claim is that international law forbids nations to amend or repeal laws designed to protect the environment.

Most of the European Parliament's nonbinding resolution is a catalog of the usual appeals for green this and sustainable that, backed by such mind-bending assertions as the scarcity of resources is a "new and emerging problem," and "that a green economy must be focused on decoupling economic activity from resource use." But wait, hasn't resource scarcity been the central theme of economic history? And exactly how will the green economy get by without resources?

The resolution also reiterates the well-trod "precautionary principle." That's the idea that the burden is on developers to prove their projects are without risk to the environment, rather than on environmentalists to prove environmental costs of development will exceed the benefits. If adhered to, the precautionary principle is like a trump card that can be played to stop almost any project. It's the card that author Bill McKibben and his merry band of Keystone pipeline protesters want Barack Obama to play, notwithstanding the U.S. State Department's carefully considered conclusion that the environmental risks of the pipeline are extremely low in relation to significant economic benefits.

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