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ROYAL COMMISSION BACKS CITIZENS JURIES TO ASSESS PROJECTS

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A report published today by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution will call for major changes to the way ...
A report published today by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution will call for major changes to the way in which environmental standards are applied, reported BBC Radio 4's Today

programme.

It says much better analysis of scientific and technical information is needed to assess the impact of projects on the environment. It also calls for more openness and wider consultation on sensitive issues.

The report has taken three years to prepare and was begun just before the Brent Spar dispute between Shell and Greenpeace. At the time public opinion, especially in Europe, forced Shell to abandon plans to

dumpt the Spar at sea despite considerable scientific and political support for their scheme as the best possible environmental option for disposal. Greenpeace later admitted that some of its campaigning had

been based on false information, while Europe has since agreed to end all such dumping.

The royal commission says that much better analysis of scientific, technical and economic information must be carried out by all parties, whether pressure group, company or government, and that the public

should be better informed and more widely consulted, perhaps by setting up citizens' juries that could help shape environmental policy.

Royal commission chairman John Houghton, interviewed on the programme, said it was a fundamental report on what should go into the standard setting process.

'Particularly we are concerned about the involvement of the public in it because the public trust in government and its standards in environmental things has eroded in recent years and we are very keen

the public get more involved. That's one of our main messages...

'It is a question of just what is dangerous; how much risk we are prepared to accept, even though the risk is very small. We have seen in things like the BSE crisis and now in discussion about genetically

modifies organisms recently, that the public get confused very often. They don't understand the uncertainities. They don't understand the science and technology, and there's a lot of uncertainty associated with it, and they want to get more involved. And we want them to get involved'.

Sir John added: 'There are ways of getting people involved. There are things like citizens' juries and consensus fora. People who get involved have to be informed, so you need to have representative

members of the public who are prepared to give time, prepared to meet with the experts, prepared to debate with the experts, prepared to ask questions of the experts and then come to some sort of

conclusion and make those conclusions widely available.

'We are not being very prescriptive about exactly what they should do because it may vary with the topic which is being debated. It may vary with the part of the country being involved. If it's a local

problem we'll get local people involved through the local authority. If it's an international problem you get people involved through international organisations'.

Sir John said legislation should underpin this approach to decision-making.

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