Why did the concept of Biodiversity Offsets become so popular?

“Bio­di­ver­sity” is a buzz­word (and “Bio­di­ver­sity Off­set” is becom­ing one)

One rea­son for the pop­u­lar­ity of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets is inher­ent to the term itself: “bio­di­ver­sity” is prob­a­bly one of the most promi­nent buzz­words of the 21st cen­tury (after “sus­tain­abil­ity” at the end of the 20th century).

Sim­ply typ­ing “bio­di­ver­sity” into the Google search engine deliv­ers more than forty mil­lion results, and every day sev­eral hun­dreds or thou­sands of new infor­ma­tion sources are being pro­duced and added (as of August 2014).

While the Google search hits for “Bio­di­ver­sity Off­set” (includ­ing both “Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets” and “Bio­di­ver­sity Off­set­ting”) can in no way be com­pared to the ones for “Bio­di­ver­sity”, they still deliver a remark­able num­ber — seen that it is a very spe­cific and com­plex concept.

Google search hits for biodiversity offset per yeargoogle_biodiversity offset

Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets are a response to the ongo­ing bio­di­ver­sity loss

So, the sim­ple answer to the ques­tion would be that, sim­i­lar to the bio­di­ver­sity “hype”, the inter­est in bio­di­ver­sity off­sets is a result of a grow­ing aware­ness and the insight that bio­di­ver­sity is being lost at unprece­dented rate. The Inter­na­tional Year of Bio­di­ver­sity 2010 and the fol­low­ing United Nations Decade of Bio­di­ver­sity (2011–2020) brought this fact to the broad pub­lic debate.

While it may be true that this did in fact influ­ence the pro­mo­tion of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets world­wide, the (abstract) aware­ness of ongo­ing bio­di­ver­sity loss falls short of pro­vid­ing an incen­tive for con­crete action.

Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets pro­vide a com­mon frame­work for a mul­ti­tude of com­pen­sa­tion approaches

Instead, the suc­cess (in terms of grow­ing inter­est, not nec­es­sar­ily in terms of envi­ron­men­tal qual­ity) of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets is mainly a sys­temic one. The term “bio­di­ver­sity off­sets” pro­vides a com­mon frame­work. Under this topic a mul­ti­tude of com­pen­sa­tion approaches is grouped together (com­pen­sa­tion, restora­tion, reme­di­a­tion, envi­ron­men­tal off­sets, habi­tat banks, eco-accounts, bio­di­ver­sity bank­ing, impact mit­i­ga­tion, wet­land mit­i­ga­tion etc.). In the past these were mostly iso­lated and an exchange was also hin­dered through the high level of com­plex­ity and con­text depen­dence (the Brazil­ian Ama­zon can’t be com­pared to a wet­land in the US or the African Savannah).

Now, Bush Bro­ker in Aus­tralia, com­pen­sa­tion agen­cies in Ger­many and Wet­land Mit­i­ga­tion Banks in the US (to name only some of the most com­mon) can all refer to one com­mon point of ref­er­ence: the con­cept of bio­di­ver­sity offsets.

Envi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment has become an indis­pens­able task – not only for “global players”

This has been par­tic­u­larly pro­moted by the Busi­ness and Bio­di­ver­sity Off­set Pro­gram. The BBOP plat­form is in place since 2004. It has engaged busi­ness, NGOs, admin­is­tra­tion and acad­e­mia in devel­op­ing qual­ity stan­dards and an imple­men­ta­tion toolkit for bio­di­ver­sity off­sets (source: BBOP).

Together with some of their busi­ness part­ners (e.g. Rio Tinto, Anglo Amer­i­can and New­mont) BBOP has also tri­aled a small num­ber of pilot projects (source: BBOP).

A rea­son for busi­nesses and gov­ern­ments to get involved in this process was the grow­ing pub­lic pres­sure to man­age the envi­ron­men­tal impact of their activities.

Howard (2007) stresses that envi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment has become an indis­pens­able task – not only for “global players”.

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