Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: Uncertainty and the Protection of Biodiversity from Invasive Alien Species

Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Asia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law, 2012, 14 (1- 2), pp. 139 - 168
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Scientists anticipate that the problem of invasive alien species will be exacerbated by co-stressors of biodiversity, such as, land clearing and climate change. One of the most effective means of regulating invasive alien species is to prevent their entry by implementing rigorous quarantine measures with strong border controls. Yet, regulators face constant uncertainty and the need to navigate a range of opinions on how best to deal with uncertainty. These difficulties are illustrated by the differing approaches to uncertainty embodied by the World Trade Organization on the one hand and the Convention on Biological Diversity on the other. While the former emphasises the need for overcoming uncertainty the latter also accommodates the need to manage uncertainty. This paper explores the impasse resulting from these strategies and also analyses whether Australia's Weed Risk Assessment provides a potential solution. It is argued that the Weed Risk Assessment can establish 'plausible hypotheses' that channel into the precautionary approach, giving regulators the flexibility of managing uncertainty by implementing measures without the benefit of full and conclusive scientific evidence. What is not clear, however, is whether the information-based processes of the Weed Risk Assessment will satisfy the scientific certainty requirements of the World Trade Organization.
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