Beyond biodiversity offsetting; trading away community rights in Gabon — critical briefing note by FERN

The cam­paign­ing NGO FERN, based in the UK and in Brus­sels, is one of the active oppo­nents of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets. Recently they have pub­lished the fourth part of a series on crit­i­cal brief­ing notes on bio­di­ver­sity off­sets. This brief­ing notes presents a crit­i­cal analy­sis of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets and com­mu­nity rights in Gabon. The full brief­ing note is acces­si­ble online. Find below copied a short intro­duc­tion as well as the conclusion.


Intro­duc­tion: Trad­ing away nature and com­mu­nity rights in Gabon

On 1 August 2014, Gabon passed a new Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Law (SDL).1 It estab­lishes the frame­work for a scheme to attempt to off­set harm caused to nature and com­mu­ni­ties through the pur­chase of envi­ron­men­tal and social cred­its. Off­set­ting has been tri­alled in a hand­ful of coun­tries across the globe.

It is part of a trend to make envi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion more flex­i­ble so that those who wish to con­tinue exploit­ing nat­ural resources can do so as long as they attempt to make amends.

The focus of this trend has mainly been on off­set­ting dam­age to bio­di­ver­sity or the envi­ron­ment, but the SDL goes much fur­ther by try­ing to apply this the­ory to com­mu­ni­ties. This brief­ing out­lines what is presently known about the SDL, gives the his­tory of other off­set­ting schemes and explains why the idea of off­set­ting com­mu­nity rights is such a prob­lem­atic development.


Attempts to off­set sul­phur pol­lu­tion, car­bon and bio­di­ver­sity have con­sis­tently failed to achieve intended reduc­tions. They have also often actu­ally harmed com­mu­ni­ties either caught up in the orig­i­nal destruc­tion or the off­set site. The SDL is there­fore a very con­cern­ing prece­dent as it tries to apply an already flawed the­ory to com­mu­ni­ties and their land and rights. This is a step in the wrong direc­tion and sup­port from the EU and Euro­pean con­sul­tants should be withdrawn.

The SDL does not offer any pro­tec­tion for the rights of com­mu­ni­ties as requested by inter­na­tional human rights law, nor has it given them any say in the draft­ing of the law or the mech­a­nisms it pro­poses to estab­lish. It con­tra­venes com­mu­ni­ties’ rights to prop­erty, to free dis­posal of nat­ural resources, to devel­op­ment, to an ade­quate stan­dard of liv­ing, and to par­tic­i­pa­tion in decision-making.

More­over, the SDL avoids the cre­ation of strong rules to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment and com­mu­ni­ties in favour of a sys­tem that allows dam­ag­ing plan­ta­tion expan­sion to con­tinue so long as the oper­a­tor can afford to pay.
This will almost cer­tainly achieve the oppo­site of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment — increased over­all dam­age to envi­ron­ment and communities.

Neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, com­mu­ni­ties, policy-makers, and donors all need to be aware of the dan­gers at the heart of this new piece of leg­is­la­tion, and look at sys­tems that have pre­vi­ously worked to achieve sus­tain­able devel­op­ment before devel­op­ing any fur­ther legal texts. With­out com­mu­nity input and con­sent, any attempts to achieve sus­tain­able devel­op­ment are bound to end in a trail of destruction.

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