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).
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.