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The Origins of “Risk” as an Idea and the Future of Risk Regulation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 April 2017


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1 When the EJRR was established.

2 Think about the discussion on human rights risks and corporate social responsibility.

3 U Beck, Risikogesellschaft (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1986).

4 See D Garland, “The Rise of Risk” in RV Ericson and A Doyle (eds), Risk and Morality (Toronto: University of Toronto Press) who describes the emergence of risk scholars as opposed to risk professionals.

5 Beck, note 3 supra, 25: “In der fortgeschrittenen Moderne geht die gesellschaftliche Produktion von Reichtum systematisch einher mit der gesellschaftlichen Produktion von Risiken. Entsprechend werden die Verteilungsprobleme und –Konflikte der Mangelgesellschaft überlagert durch die Probleme und Konflikte, die aus der Produktion, Definition und Verteilung wissenschaftlich-technisch produzierter Risiken entstehen.”

6 See overview in P Strydom, Risk, Environment and Society (Philadelphia: Open University Press) 11 et sqq.

7 J Steele, Risks and Legal Theory (Oxford: Hart 2004) 6.

8 PL Bernstein, Against the Gods: the Remarkable Story of Risk (New York: John Wiley and Sons 1996) 1.

9 Bernstein supra note 8.

10 Garland, supra note 4, 68. Risk, therefore, is also strongly related to courage, since courage is necessary to make choices. See, for instance, Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the “Use of the precautionary principle” (2000/C268/04), OJ 2000 C 268/6, point 2.1, where it is stated, “Risk does not equate with fear, but with courage.”

11 Bernstein, supra note 8, 1.

12 See the account on Beck in Steele, supra note 7, 47 et sqq.

13 A Giddens, “Risk and Responsibility” (1999) 62 Modern Law Review 1, 3.

14 Giddens, supra note 13, 3.

15 Giddens, supra note 13, 4.

16 For a criticism of Beck’s account on the novelty of risks in late modernity see Garland, supra note 4, 75–76.

17 Beck, supra note 3, 23.

18 One could also describe this relationship as one of a continuum. Rationalisation and the extension of human knowledge have also led to new dangers and anxieties. Niklas Luhmann in Soziologie des Risikos (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter 1991) 37–38 notes on this subject: “Je mehr man weiss, desto mehr weiss man, was man nicht weiss, und desto eher bildet sich ein Risikobewusstsein aus.” And, “Die moderne Risikogesellschaft ist also nicht nur rein Resultat der Wahrnehmung von Folgen technischer Realisationen. Sie ist schon im Ausbau der Forschungsmöglichkeiten und des Wissens selbst angelegt.”

19 See P Bernstein, Against the Gods; I. Hacking, The Emergence of Probability (London: Cambridge University Press 1975); ibid, The Taming of Chance (New York: Cambridge University Press 1990).

20 See A. Hájek, “A Philosopher’s Guide to Probability” in G. Bammer and M. Smithson (eds), Uncertainty and Risk: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (Routledge 2008) 92.

21 See Steele, supra note 7, 21–22.

22 See DA Kysar, “It might have been: risk, precaution and opportunity costs” (2006) 22(1) Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law 1.

23 See A Stirling, On Science and Precaution in the Management of Technological Risk: Volume I – A Synthesis Report of Case Studies (Sevilla: Institute for Prospective Technological Studies 1999) 16; also Brian Wynne, “Uncertainty and Environmental Learning” (1992) 2 Global Environmental Change 111–127.

24 The chosen unit of measurement is expressed either in terms of human mortality (fatalities to be expected per, for instance, million individuals in any given year), or by estimating the probability of a single individual dying in any given period of time as a result of the hazard. See Steele, supra note 7, 164 and Stirling, supra note 23, 9.

25 Wynne, supra note 23, 113; on the origin of risk assessment as governed by risk professionals see Piet Strydom, Risk, Environment and Society (Buckingham, Philadelphia: Open University Press 2002).

26 Steele, supra note 7, 165–166.

27 Stirling, supra note 23; also Wynne, supra note 23; MBA van Asselt and E Vos,“The Precautionary Principle and the Uncertainty Paradox” (2006) 9(4) Journal of Risk Research 313.

28 See Wynne, supra note 23, 113.

29 See Stirling, supra note 23, 9.

30 See also A Stirling and P van Zwanenberg, “Risk and Precaution in the US and Europe” in H Somsen, T Etty, J Scott and L Krämer (eds), Yearbook of European Environmental Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004) Vol. 3, 47.

31 Stirling, supra note 23, 17.

32 Ibid.

33 Wynne, supra note 23, 114.

34 On the notion of uncertain risks, see van Asselt and Vos, supra note 27.

35 Steele, supra note 7, 166.

36 See Maria Weimer, “Risk Regulation and Deliberation in EU Administrative Governance – GMO Regulation and its Reform” (2015) 21 European Law Journal 622; Maria Weimer and Anniek de Ruijter (eds) Regulating Risks in the European Union – the Co-production between Expert and Executive Power (Hart forthcoming); Sheila Jasanoff, The Fifth Branch: Science Advisers as Policymakers (Harvard University Press 1990). See also T-13/99 Pfizer v Commission ECLI:EU:T:2002:209.

37 Maria Weimer, “Applying Precaution in EU Authorisation of Genetically Modified Products – Challenges and Suggestions for Reform” (2010) 16 European Law Journal 624; Joakim Zander, The Application of the Precautionary Principle in Practice: Comparative Dimensions (Cambridge University Press 2010).

38 Such work is underway, see e.g. the contributions in Maria Weimer and Luisa Marin (eds) Special Issue on Regulating New and Emerging Technologies, (2016) 7(3) European Journal of Risk Regulation 469–532; or the rich scholarship on courts in risk regulation, e.g. Sidney Shapiro, Elizabeth Fisher and Wendy Wagner, “The Enlightenment of Administrative Law: Looking Inside the Agency for Legitimacy” (2012) 47 Wake Forest Law Review 463; Joanne Scott and Susan Sturm, “Courts as Catalysts: Rethinking the Judicial Role in New Governance” (2007) 13(3) Columbia Journal of European Law 565; Alberto Alemanno, “The Shaping of European Risk Regulation by Community Courts”, The Jean Monnet Working Papers, n. 18/2008.

39 See MBA van Asselt and E Vos, “Wrestling with Uncertain Risks: EU Regulation of GMOs and the Uncertainty Paradox” (2008) 11 Journal of Risk Research 281; Maria Lee, “Beyond Safety? The Broadening Scope of Risk Regulation” (2009) 62 Current Legal Problems 242; Milhail Kritikos, “Traditional Risk Analysis and Releases of GMOs into the European Union: Space for Non-Scientific Factors?” (2009) European Law Review 405.

40 It is undisputed here that scientific expertise is a crucial part of risk regulation. However, the uncertain nature of many late-modern technological risks necessarily changes the role of science in regulation.

41 See, for further discussion, Maria Weimer and Gaia Pisani, “Expertise as Justification – The contested legitimation of the EU ‘risk administration’” in Weimer and de Ruijter, supra note 36.

42 For a critical appraisal see the contributions in the Special Issue on the Better Regulation Package – How Much Better is Regulation? (2015) 6(3) European Journal of Risk Regulation 344–381.

43 A pioneering example is this respect is the regulatory framework for the authorisation of GMOs in Norway, see Apolline Roger, “In the public interest? Comparative Analysis of Norway and EU GMO Regulations” (2015) 24(3) Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law 264–277.