This report is the second of its type produced by the European Environment Agency, external authors and peer reviewers. Volume 1 (2001) of Late lessons...: the precautionary principle 1896–2000 looked at the history of a selection of occupational, public health and environmental hazards and asked if we could have been better at taking action early enough to prevent harm. 12 key lessons for better decision making were drawn from 14 cases where public policy was formulated against a background of scientific uncertainty and 'surprises' — and where clear evidence of hazards to people and the environment was often ignored. The 2001 case studies and lessons remain pertinent today, and underline four reasons for a second report.
First, expanding the late lessons approach to consider long known, additional issues with broad societal implications such as lead in petrol, mercury, environmental tobacco smoke and DDT, as well as issues from which lessons have emerged more recently such as the effects of the contraceptive pill on feminisation of fish and the impacts of insecticides on honeybees. Second, filling an acknowledged gap in the 2001 report by analysing the issue of false positives where government regulation was undertaken based on precaution but later turned out to be unnecessary. Most cases examined in the reports are 'false negatives', where early warnings existed but no preventive actions were taken. Third, addressing the rapid emergence of new society challenges such as radiation from mobile phones, genetically modified products, nanotechnologies and invasive alien species as well as if, how and where precautionary actions can play a role. And fourth, how precautionary approaches can help manage the fast changing, multiple, systemic challenges the world faces today, what new insights can be drawn and how these can underpin opportunities for sustainable innovations and, supported by ITs, greater public participation in their selection.