Which Adverse Environmental Impacts of an Economic Activity Are Legally Acceptable and on What Conditions

Author:Hannes Veinla
Hannes Veinla
Associate Professor of Environmental Law
University of Tartu
Which Adverse Environmental
Impacts of an Economic Activity
Are Legally Acceptable
and on What Conditions
1. Introduction
A fairly clear di erentiation between environmental risks and hazards, in combination with the corre-
sponding legal principles, is characteristic of Estonian law. This di erentiation is not as clear in many other
jurisdictions, including that of EU law. Additionally, relevant literature presents diverging perspectives on
the relationship between the precautionary principle and the prevention principle. For instance, L. Krämer
does not di erentiate between these two principles and considers them to be interchangeable.*1 E. Reh-
binder and N. de Sadeleer, in contrast, see distinct di erences between these concepts, a stance that is char-
acteristic of the German legal tradition. In German law, the prevention principle (Prävention) is applied
to situations in which there is a known hazard (Gefahr) and the precautionary principle to situations that
involve a possible hazard (Risiko)*2. In addition to making this distinction, German law speci es the class of
risks that need to be tolerated (Restrisiko) – that is, risks against which it is not justi ed to take measures.
Estonian environmental law implements principles similar to those found in German law.
T he internationally recognised principles of environmental policy are based on ecosystem services the-
ory, which emphasises the economic bene ts related to the ecosystems crucial to human existence. Focus-
ing on ecosystem services provides a way to evaluate the importance and bene ts of natural systems and the
reasons for protecting natural resources from an economic point of view while also considering the possible
economic consequences of not protecting the environment.*3
This article is motivated by current public discussions in Estonia about several plans for building and
development with signi cant environmental consequences. It appears that the understanding of the eco-
nomic value of nature is rather one-sided in these discussions. A speci c example would be the plan to
build a large pulp mill near the river Emajõgi, which has provoked a number of – highly varied – responses,
including several scienti c interpretations.
See. L. Krämer. EC Environmental Law. London: Sweet and Maxwell , on p. .
See E. Rehbinder. The precautionary principle in an environmental perspective. – E.M. Basse (ed.). Miljørettens grund-
sporgsmäl. , pp. , on p. ; N. de Sadeleer. Environmental Principles: From Political Slogans to Legal Rules.
Oxford University Press , on p. ; K. Pape, K. Schillhorn. Environmental law in the Federal Republic of Germany. –
N. Koeman (ed.). Environmental Law in Europe. Kluwer Law International , on p. .
See G.C. Daily, P.A. Matson. Ecosystem services: From theory to implementation. – PNAS  () /  ( July). Avail-
able at http://www.pnas.org/content///.full (most recently accessed on  June ).

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