Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the UNESCO's online course, Climate Justice: Lessons from the Global South. Join the course to learn more.
Rainbows seen and photographed from an airplane window

The time-frame of the Precautionary Principle in relation to climate change

The application of the Precautionary Principle to Climate change requires thinking and anticipating problems in the long-term, beyond political regimes and even human generations. It involves terrestrial and atmospheric life-spans and must therefore be viewed as a common good that cannot be achieved without the cooperation of others.

It requires the anticipation of systemic effects and counter-effects that transcend the linear mono-causality of laboratory-controlled experimental sciences. Its comprehension is necessarily trans-and-interdisciplinary because it involves the participation of the social and human sciences aside from the natural sciences.

The stakeholders of Climate Change includes all living beings that benefit from the earth’s life-support systems.

The Manden Charter, a Human Rights Declaration found in the oral traditions of the Mali Empire in Western Africa, addressed this kind of intergenerational time-frame in the following statement:

“The Children of Sanin and Kroton declare: every human life is a life. It is true that one life comes into existence before another life, But no life is more ‘senior’ or more respectable than any other life, Just as no life is superior to any other life.”1

In Latin America, Francisco Xavier Clavigero also lamented in the “Ancient History of Mexico”:

“Our world – the American will respond – that you now call new because it was unknown to you three centuries ago, is as old as your world, and our animals are the contemporaries of yours. They are under no obligation to be like your animals, and it is not our fault if our animal species are unknown to your naturalists or hidden by the scarcity of their lights. Therefore, either your ostriches are irregular because they do not look like ours or at the very least, ours should not be called irregular because they do not look like yours…. “


1 “Philosophy Manual: A South-South Perspective” (Paris: UNESCO, 2015), p. 212.

For discussion and comments:

  • Do you agree with Clavigero’s claim about the contemporaneous existence of animals in the new world and the old world?

  • What are the consequences of Clavigero’s claim in terms of a theory of natural history and human “development”?

  • Are we contemporaries in the world today? Or do we consider others to be lagging behind?

  • What is the basis for our claims if we believe that other peoples or nations are lagging behind?

  • What “rainbows” can bridge the gaps between those who are relatively more advanced and those who are lagging behind in terms of human and ecological flourishing or development?

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Climate Justice: Lessons from the Global South