Hungary, Budapest

The Precautionary Principle in Sustainability Transitions: Thinking forwards, Looking backwards, Acting

when 28 June 2018 - 4 July 2018
language English
duration 1 week
credits 1.5 ECTS
fee EUR 900

This course is the second edition of the highly successful 2015 SUN course on the same topic. The faculty is composed of renowned and high profile scholars and practitioners with broad experience in interdisciplinary research and integrative policy-making. The team includes the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, the former Senior Advisor of EEA and 'Late Lessons' project leader, the Chair of the Scientific Committee of EEA, as well as professors from renowned Universities and Business Schools. Participants will come from a variety of backgrounds (including researchers as well as practitioners from public bodies, NGOs and business). The Course will give them a unique opportunity to (i) increase their theoretical and practical expertise on issues surrounding the precautionary principle; to (ii) train in inter- and transdisciplinary research and integrative policy praxis; and (iii) build a strong network with other participants and faculty.

The precautionary principle is a key principle of environmental governance. It features prominently in many international environmental policy processes, texts and treaties and in national strategies and laws of many countries.

It is one of the four environment principles in the Treaty of the European Union, in which article 191,§2 states that Union policy on the environment "shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay". Together these 4 principles –precaution, prevention, polluter-pays and rectification of damage at source– are central to managing risk to the environment, human health and well-being. The most problematic of these principles is without doubt the precautionary principle.
The precautionary principle poses challenges to environmental science, environmental governance and praxis because it applies to 'situations of scientific complexity, uncertainty and ignorance, where there may be a need to act in order to avoid, or reduce, potentially serious or irreversible threats to health and/or the environment, using an appropriate strength of scientific evidence, and taking into account the pros and cons of action and inaction and their distribution' (see the working definition of the precautionary principle proposed by the European Environment Agency – EEA 2013, p. 681). As a tool to manage risks, uncertainties and ignorance in complex social ecological systems, it is a core element of governance for a transition towards sustainability.

The principle is subject to a variety of interpretations, at the heart of major controversies and the target of serious attacks, sometimes because of misinterpretations, sometimes because of the vested interests it may be thought to disturb.

As shown by the seminal work of the European Environment Agency in the two 'Late Lessons from Early Warnings' reports (EEA 2001, 2013) there are still many open and pressing questions around the precautionary principle and its application, ways of doing research, science-policy-society interfaces, the governance of innovations and risk governance in the framework of sustainability transitions. And, in the current political context, notably in the European Union, there is a need for intellectual rigour around the concept, both from a research and a praxis point of view.

Course leader

Sybille van den Hove, MEDIAN S.C.P, Barcelona, Spain
Anton Shkaruba, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary
David Stanners, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, Denmark
Course Faculty:

Target group

Applications are invited from researchers (advanced PhD students, postdocs) and practitioners from policy-making institutions, NGOs, business and international organizations. Undergraduates will not be considered.

Participants to be selected to the school shall meet the following criteria:

- hold positions at universities, research institutions, consultancies, business, relevant public bodies and administrations (including the European Institutions) or a research-oriented NGO;
- have MSc or PhD degree or equivalent and at least two years of research or professional experience or/and teaching at graduate level;
- be fluent in English;
- have demonstrable achievements in research or in praxis;
- demonstrate good communication skills;
- demonstrate originality and motivation in their application letter.

Course aim

The purpose of this course is to explore challenges and possible ways forward for the effective and appropriate application of the precautionary principle in sustainability governance. It will bring together a solid and diverse group of scholars and practitioners with expertise on the precautionary principle, risk assessment and management, environment and health research, science and technology studies, the governance of innovation, environmental governance, and long term transitions to sustainability. The course is designed as a strategic knowledge and experience sharing course at the intersection between a research-oriented course and a professional development course, dedicated to collaborative exploration and learning. It will provide intensive research training, but also allow for policy discussions in a variety of sector and contexts and, through a knowledge co-creation approach, help to identify and find solutions to course-related issues in the participants’ research, policy or business application fields.

Credits info

1.5 ECTS
CEU Summer University awards a certificate of attendance upon successful completion of the course. In order to gain this certificate, participants will be expected to attend and actively participate in all classes and complete assignments required by the course.

Fee info

EUR 900: for participants from business, public bodies & administrations and international organisations. An early bird fee option of 720 EUR is available until April 30, 2018.
EUR 400: for participants from academia and NGOs. An early bird fee option of 360 EUR is available until April 30, 2018.


Tuition waivers are available to excellent candidates, especially from developing countries and countries in transition.

Financial aid is available.