Maturity of issue

When a new environmental impact is discovered, there is normally a sceptisism in society that follows after the first alarm. This leads to reserach trying to confirm or reject the new findings. If accepted as a true impact, research for control methods, development of policy and legal frameworks follow. This may last for decades before it means costs and business opportunities for companies. The ban of freons is an example of a relatively fast process. This is probably true for most chemicals, where it is possible to find a substitute. The slowest processes concern resources. The depletion of the New Foundland Cod is an example of a slow control process.

The maturity of an environmental issue in terms of societal responses may be assessed by considering the questions in the following table:

Societal responses Check the following
1. Acknowledge and respond to ignorance, as well as uncertainty and risk, in technology appraisal and public policymaking. Are these aspects mentioned in media and policy documents?
2. Provide adequate long-term environmental and health monitoring and research into early warnings. Are such programs running or have been running?
3. Identify and work to reduce ‘blind spots’ and gaps in scientific knowledge. Is there a discussion of blind spots and gaps aspects in R&D documentation
4. Identify and reduce interdisciplinary obstacles to learning. Is there an interdisciplinary agenda?
5. Ensure that real world conditions are adequately accounted for in regulatory appraisal. Is there an impact assessment of planned regulations?
6. Systematically scrutinise the claimed justifications and benefits alongside the potential risks. Are there critical reviews?
7. Evaluate a range of alternative options for meeting needs alongside the option under appraisal, and promote more robust, diverse and adaptable technologies so as to minimise the costs of surprises and maximise the benefits of innovation. Are there discussions of alternative options for meeting the needs?
8. Ensure use of ‘lay’ and local knowledge, as well as relevant specialist expertise in the appraisal. Are there laymen and local knowledge involved?
9. Take full account of the assumptions and values of different social groups. Are values of different social groups accounted for?
10. Maintain the regulatory independence of interested parties while retaining an inclusive approach to information and opinion gathering. Are interested parties involved in a dialogue?
11. Identify and reduce institutional obstacles to learning and action. Have institutional obstacles to learning and action been identified?
12. Avoid ‘paralysis by analysis’ by acting to reduce potential harm when there are reasonable grounds for concern. Are there at least some actions taken on reasonable grounds?