Biodiversity Offsets need a strong regulatory system! Or voluntary engagement?

Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets under reg­u­la­tory systems

A decade ago off­sets only existed under sev­eral reg­u­la­tory sys­tems e.g. Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Assess­ment, US Wet­land Mit­i­ga­tion, Ger­man Impact Mit­i­ga­tion Reg­u­la­tion and other (see table below for some selected more). Compensation approaches in selected countries (from Darbi et al 2010)

The busi­ness case and vol­un­tary bio­di­ver­sity offsets

These have served as a source for the devel­op­ment of new toolk­its and stan­dards for the “the busi­ness case” for bio­di­ver­sity off­sets (e.g. BBOP, IFC, ICMM etc.). This implied the pro­mo­tion of “vol­un­tary off­sets” as opposed to the exist­ing “manda­tory offsets”.

Up to now, these two have been used mostly lit­er­ally and not fur­ther under­pinned. If you look at manda­tory and vol­un­tary bio­di­ver­sity off­sets as antipodes it is obvi­ous that this “black-or-white” dis­tinc­tion doesn’t work (see my pre­vi­ous post Early draft on a Typol­ogy of Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets). Bio­di­ver­sity off­sets are far more com­plex than that.

Two obser­va­tions on manda­tory vs. vol­un­tary bio­di­ver­sity offsets

My first obser­va­tion is that the lit­eral mean­ing of manda­tory vs. vol­un­tary needs to be clar­i­fied. Sim­ply said, it could mean under exist­ing leg­is­la­tion or with­out such. But this falls short of the sit­u­a­tion in prac­tice: the term “manda­tory” (and “vol­un­tary”) has many con­no­ta­tions and as such would include dif­fer­ent types or cat­e­gories itself. These cat­e­gories would each have a dif­fer­ent grade of manda­tori­ness (or vol­un­tari­ness respectively).

As a result, it will in prac­tice be hardly fea­si­ble to draw a strict line between manda­tory and vol­un­tary off­sets. This leads to my sec­ond obser­va­tion, that manda­tory and vol­un­tary off­sets are not two dis­tinct cat­e­gories but rep­re­sent the two ends of a con­tin­uum. All off­set cases range in between.

Is a strong reg­u­la­tory sys­tem the (only) way forward?

How­ever, due to the dif­fer­ent level of con­trol and the pos­si­bil­ity of sanc­tions, many experts now see a strong reg­u­la­tory sys­tem as the (only) way for­ward (Albrecht et al. 2014, NNL Con­fer­ence). Espe­cially in the EU the intro­duc­tion of a manda­tory scheme (i.e. through an EU direc­tive or reg­u­la­tion) is being dis­cussed in the scope of the 2015 No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive (see my pre­vi­ous posts From global bio­di­ver­sity loss to No Net Loss in the EU? and Con­sul­ta­tion of the EU on the No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive (includ­ing bio­di­ver­sity off­sets) – please have your say!).

I will be curi­ous to see how this dis­cus­sion devel­ops in the next few years and whether the EU will really come across with some reg­u­la­tion on this.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>