IUCN has presented the latest report by its Biodiversity Offsets Technical Study Group at the IUCN World Parks Congress (12 - 19 November 2014 in Sydney, Australia). Lead authors Kerry ten Kate and John Pilgrim together with various contributing authors have written more than sixty pages of very dense information ranging from the context and existing practice and policy to questions of measuring, managing and monitoring biodiversity offsets. You can access the full report here (open access) and find the pdf below:
Read also the authors’ conclusions on how to support best practice biodiversity offsets.
Conclusions: How can IUCN support best practice in offsetting?
0.1 Communicating best practice in mitigation through a policy on biodiversity offsets
This section summarizes the key elements of offsetting best practice upon which the Technical Study Group believes there is sufficient agreement for IUCN to recommend them to its Members through an offset policy:
• Biodiversity offsets have the potential to provide net gains in biodiversity in the right context, but this has rarely yet been realised in practice (Section 2).
• The high-level principles of offsetting best practice are reasonably well agreed (Section 2).
• The principal reason that offsets fail to achieve No Net Loss or Net Gain appears to be lack of clear policy requirements that offer unambiguous guidance to developers and offset providers, limited capacity for implementation of mitigation, inadequate monitoring and enforcement, and – particularly – insufficient political will to require and enforce best practice in offsetting (Section 2).
• Offsets should be applied within the context of the mitigation hierarchy (Section 3).
• Offsets should be planned within a dynamic landscape context, taking into account cumulative impact scenarios (Section 3).
• Offset systems should aim to achieve at least No Net Loss and preferably a Net Gain for all biodiversity, through addressing – as a minimum – significant residual direct and indirect impacts (Sections 4 and 5).
• In practice, it is necessary to focus specific offsetting measures and measurement of losses and gains on good surrogates of broader biodiversity and on biodiversity of the highest conservation concern (e.g. rare and restricted biodiversity) (Section 4).
• Some – perhaps many – impacts are so significant that they may not be acceptable to society (in which case projects will not be permitted) or cannot be offset, owing to the high risk of failure (Section 4).
• For impacts with a low significance in terms of biodiversity conservation, a simplified approach will be preferable in order to avoid transaction costs that are high relative to the costs of mitigation measures, including offsets (Section 4).
• Societal values concerning biodiversity should be captured within offset goals (Section 5).
• Offset metrics should separately include both surrogacy measures (often habitat-based) and measures for high conservation priority biodiversity that is poorly represented by those surrogates (Section 6).
• Offset metrics should strike a balance between limiting substitution and establishing a currency that is fungible enough to facilitate exchange (Section 6).
• Conservation outcomes from biodiversity offsets should be ‘additional’ (Section 7).
• It is preferable to secure offset outcomes prior to impacts in order to address temporal loss and reduce the risk of offset failure (Section 8).
• The conservation outcomes of offsets should endure at least as long as the impacts are felt (Section 8).
• Public sector developments should abide by the same offset requirements as private sector developments (Section 9).
• It is desirable to allow a level of choice with a variety of options for how offsets can be implemented, but there should be equally exacting standards for all forms of offset implementation (Section 10).
• Shortcomings in monitoring, evaluation and enforcement account for a significant proportion of the cases where mitigation measures, including offsets, have failed to deliver their goals (Section 11).
0.2 Using knowledge products to inform offsetting
The flagship knowledge products mobilized through IUCN (2014) have significant potential to inform: the manner in which the mitigation hierarchy is applied (Section 2); the scope of offset policies (Section 4); the metrics and the exchange rules (e.g. ‘like for like or better’ (Section 6); the offsetting activities that could be considered as additional (Section 7) and the site selection of biodiversity offsets. For example, priorities for measurement during offsetting may be considered to be particularly vulnerable species or ecosystems (in respective Red Lists) or particularly irreplaceable sites (Key Biodiversity Areas). The value of knowledge products in informing offsetting and other development decisions is not discussed in depth here since it has been elaborated recently by IUCN (2014). IUCN could also disseminate, among its Members, knowledge products relevant to offsetting that have not been directly mobilized by initiatives, such as the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP).
0.3 Convening IUCN Members and other stakeholders globally to give guidance on complex issues
Guidance is particularly necessary on:
• Whether there should be information on the manner in which each of the steps within the mitigation hierarchy should be applied and, if so, what that information should be (Section 3);
• Whether and how to apply a risk-based approach to the mitigation hierarchy (Section 3);
• How to design offsets within dynamic landscapes that are likely to change during offset duration (e.g. owing to change in other threatening processes, such as population growth or climate change) (Section 3);
• Where to place offsets in relation to impacts, in varying contexts, including when and how to use composite offsets (in more than one location), to address all the biodiversity components impacted by an individual project, or aggregated offsets to cluster together offsets for a number of different projects (Section 4);
• The appropriate level of ambition for offset policies (e.g. No Net Loss vs. Net Gain: Section 5);
• Consistency of use and interpretation of terms such as No Net Loss and Net Gain (Section 5);
• Resolving any conflicts between societal values and ‘intrinsic values’ (Section 5);
• Establishing exchange rules in order to support conservation priorities, while also ensuring that the offset system runs smoothly (Section 6);
• How to determine the additionality of activities within existing protected areas, and averting risks in jurisdictions where government policy or investment should already prevent such risks (Section 7);
• Whether, and if so how, it is possible to demonstrate additionality (Section 7);
• Best practice in determining the baseline risk of loss for averted risk offsets and in quantifying security gains (Section 7);
• Tackling leakage in offset design and implementation (Section 7);
• When offset gains should be made, particularly in the many cases where it is only practical to achieve gains after the relevant impacts (Section 8);
• The appropriate duration of offsets and how to demonstrate secure long-term offset outcomes (or fulfil offset objectives when initial activities have failed) in countries where the land and the property laws do not cater for long-term security of land-use (Section 8);
• The standards needed for implementation (e.g. development and delivery of conservation credits) (Section 10);
• How governments can develop roadmaps for establishing offset systems and market-based approaches to offset implementation (Section 10); and
• Establishing effective monitoring, evaluation and enforcement systems (Section 11).
0.4 Convening IUCN Members and other stakeholders nationally to agree key national or local level issues
A number of issues identified in this report are context-dependent and thus best resolved through stakeholder/societal engagement at a national or local level. Convening stakeholders in national or local level processes is important, among other reasons, in order to:
• Identify societal values of biodiversity and incorporate them into offset goals in any given context (Section 5);
• Identify the types and priority level of biodiversity and impacts which should, and can feasibly, be included in offsetting systems (Section 4);
• Identify higher thresholds for acceptable significance of impacts (Section 4);
• Identify lower thresholds for acceptable significance of impacts, enabling a simplified system to deliver more efficient conservation outcomes than a sophisticated offset system (Section 4);
• Determine the scope and nature of compensation activities when all a project’s impacts are not capable of being offset (Section 4);
• Assess the capacity needed for successful implementation (Section 10);
• Determine the standards needed for implementation (e.g. development and delivery of conservation credits) (Section 10); and
• Determine, based on lessons learned (Section 0.5), the most context-appropriate mechanisms and stakeholder roles and responsibilities for regulating, administering (Section 9) and implementing offsets (Section 10), and monitoring outcomes (Section 11).
0.5 Increasing IUCN Member participation in the offsetting community of practice
At the level of individual projects, civil society IUCN Members could contribute guidance during the design and implementation of mitigation measures, including biodiversity offsets. They could provide practical guidance and constructive criticism to offset planners and practitioners within a safe learning environment, in order to increase empirical evidence of factors influencing offset failure/success (Section 2).
Governmental IUCN Members could share experiences and lessons learned on:
• Whether there should be information on the manner in which each of the steps within the mitigation hierarchy should be applied, and whether and how to apply a risk-based approach (Section 3);
• How to design offset policies that avoid or manage conflict with provisions in other areas of policy, such as perverse incentives or promotion of projects that bring economic gains, but have negative social and environmental impacts (Section 3);
• How to establish the fundamental function and rules of the system that governs offset design and implementation, such as metrics and exchange rules including ‘trading up’ (Section 6);
• How to design policies that enable biodiversity, carbon, water and development activities to be planned within the same landscape and still ensure additionality (Section 7);
• The relative effectiveness of voluntary and mandatory offset systems (Section 9);
• How to balance the need for clarity and consistency in policy at the national level with locally specific conditions and delegated authority (Section 9);
• How to deal with overlapping and sometimes contradictory requirements from different jurisdictions (Section 9);
• How to set up offset systems that embrace multiple different roles for government (Section 9);
• How to deal with potential conflict of interest between different government functions and ensure probity (Section 9);
• The success and failure of offsets under different forms of implementation (Section 10); and
• The strengths and weaknesses of different approaches taken at the national levels (in running offsets systems) and at the project level (in running individual offsets) to monitoring, evaluation and enforcement (Section 11).