Behold the power of fungus … and biodiversity offsets — a guest post by Naazia Ebrahim

This is a guest post by Naazia Ebrahim of the OECD Envi­ron­ment Direc­torate.

This com­ment has pre­vi­ously been pub­lished on OECD Insights. It is the expres­sion of the author’s thoughts and expe­ri­ences and as such is acknowl­edged as a fruit­ful con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cus­sion on bio­di­ver­sity off­sets. If you want to react or clar­ify your own posi­tion (under­pin or dis­prove) , please leave a reply below!

Korean Friendship Bell Ganoderma MotifWhen you think of bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion, you prob­a­bly think of the clas­sic images: the polar bear, the lion, the ele­phant, the giraffe. The eco­log­i­cal com­mu­nity likes to call them charis­matic megafauna, with only a hint of satire.

But did you know that the only thing that can neu­tralise the dead­liest, antibiotic-resistant super­bug on this planet is a fun­gus? Now, note that it was dis­cov­ered in the soil of a Cana­dian national park, and it rather makes the argu­ment (well, the anthro­pogenic argu­ment) for con­ser­va­tion of bio­di­ver­sity in all its shapes and forms by itself. Behold the power of a fungus!

Unfor­tu­nately, most bio­di­ver­sity has been hav­ing a rough time of it lately.

As we have all heard recently, WWF’s 2014 Liv­ing Planet Report has reported a 52% decline in mam­mals, birds, rep­tiles, amphib­ians and fish over­all from 1970 to 2010, while IUCN’s Red List indi­cates that a quar­ter of mam­mals, over a tenth of birds, and 41% of amphib­ians are at risk of extinc­tion. The decline is worse in the trop­ics, and par­tic­u­larly in Latin Amer­ica, where species pop­u­la­tions have dropped by 83% since 1970. Sig­nif­i­cantly scaled up efforts will be needed if we are to reach the 2011–2020 Aichi Bio­di­ver­sity Tar­gets – agreed upon at the 2010 con­fer­ence of the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity – in time. And this is true not only for con­ser­va­tion, but also for the sus­tain­able use of bio­di­ver­sity and nat­ural resources.

Here at the OECD, we’re look­ing at how to scale up finance for bio­di­ver­sity, and how instru­ments for con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­able use of bio­di­ver­sity can be designed and imple­mented in more effec­tive ways. One instru­ment, bio­di­ver­sity off­sets, has recently been gain­ing much atten­tion from gov­ern­ment and busi­ness alike. Based on the pol­luter pays approach, bio­di­ver­sity off­sets oper­ate under a “no-net-loss” prin­ci­ple, and have the poten­tial to reduce the costs of achiev­ing envi­ron­men­tal objectives.

To be sure, there are dif­fi­cul­ties. The most obvi­ous one is that bio­di­ver­sity is not like car­bon: one unit emit­ted here does not equal one unit saved there. Bio­di­ver­sity is highly spe­cific, and often highly localised; there are many ecosys­tems that wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily exist if eco­log­i­cal con­di­tions changed slightly. So project devel­op­ers need to be par­tic­u­larly care­ful at build­ing in safe­guards; off­sets must be a last resort after avoid­ance and mit­i­ga­tion; off­set design must adhere to strict require­ments for eco­log­i­cal equiv­a­lence; and mon­i­tor­ing and ver­i­fi­ca­tion must be extremely robust.

As we work through estab­lish­ing good prac­tice insights, we hope that bio­di­ver­sity off­sets will be able to pro­vide devel­op­ers with an addi­tional tool to reduce their adverse impacts on bio­di­ver­sity in a cost-effective way. That really would be a win-win – and one that would make all superbug-fighting fungi happy.

Use­ful links

The OECD held a work­shop on bio­di­ver­sity off­sets in Novem­ber 2013, with rep­re­sen­ta­tion from gov­ern­ments, indus­try, and civil soci­ety. Keep an eye out for our pub­li­ca­tion, forth­com­ing in early 2015.

Pre­lim­i­nary OECD Pol­icy High­lights on Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets

Chap­ter on Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets from Scal­ing up Finance Mech­a­nisms for Biodiversity

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