From global biodiversity loss to No Net Loss in the EU?

A global prob­lem: the loss of bio­di­ver­sity on the polit­i­cal agenda

The nat­ural world is going down. Many species and their habi­tats, and ecosys­tem as a whole, are threat­ened by human activ­i­ties. A broad con­sen­sus exists among sci­en­tists, politi­cians, busi­nesses and in civil soci­ety as a whole that bio­di­ver­sity loss is one of the biggest chal­lenges that we are facing.

This is a prob­lem not only because of the intrin­sic value of nature but also because humans rely on a healthy envi­ron­ment as the basis for their exis­tence (see Mil­le­nium Ecosys­tem assess­ment, Global Envi­ron­men­tal Out­look).

As a result, pol­i­tics have declared that actions need to be taken to halt this global loss urgently and imme­di­ately. The prob­lem as such is not new. But it wasn’t until 1992 when the world’s lead­ers decided that it was time for a par­a­digm shift.

The result was the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity (CBD) which since then has been rat­i­fied by 168 states and the Euro­pean Union. It com­bines the preser­va­tion of the diver­sity of species and habi­tats and the genetic diver­sity with the sus­tain­able use of the nat­ural resources.

Many states have elab­o­rated national bio­di­ver­sity strate­gies and action plans to enforce the goals of the CBD at national or regional level. For instance the Euro­pean Union has adopted its 2020 Bio­di­ver­sity Strat­egy. The strat­egy includes a com­mit­ment to halt “the loss of bio­di­ver­sity and the degra­da­tion of ecosys­tem ser­vices in the EU by 2020, and restor­ing them in so far as pos­si­ble” (EU 2020 Bio­di­ver­sity Strat­egy).

As pre­vi­ous com­mit­ments to halt bio­di­ver­sity loss haven’t proven to be effec­tive two trends are impor­tant to note with regard to a pol­icy change: the first is a stronger focus on restora­tion as part of the con­cept of “No Net Loss” and the sec­ond is the pro­mo­tion of “new and inno­v­a­tive instru­ments and strate­gies” to achieve “No Net Loss”.

Pol­icy change towards restora­tion as part of the con­cept of “No Net Loss”

The first obser­va­tion is a stronger focus on restora­tion (or com­pen­sa­tion) to coun­ter­bal­ance the loss, in addi­tion to con­tin­ued con­ser­va­tion efforts (which alone can’t achieve the goal of halt­ing the loss).

In this regard, tar­get 2 of the Euro­pean Bio­di­ver­sity Strat­egy claims to main­tain and enhance ecosys­tems and their ser­vices “by estab­lish­ing green infra­struc­ture and restor­ing at least 15% of degraded ecosys­tems”. Sup­port­ing actions include the devel­op­ment of a strate­gic frame­work to set pri­or­i­ties for ecosys­tem restora­tion at sub-national, national and EU level (Action 6a), a Green Infra­struc­ture Strat­egy by 2012 (action 6b), and an ini­tia­tive to ensure there is no net loss of ecosys­tems and their ser­vices (e.g. through com­pen­sa­tion or off­set­ting schemes) by 2015 (action 7b) (both ini­ti­ated by the Euro­pean Commission).

The con­cept of “No Net Loss” is being named as a key ele­ment. But what is the dif­fer­ence between “No Loss” and “No Net Loss”? While “No loss” would tech­ni­cally mean that no loss and con­se­quently no devel­op­ment shall be admis­si­ble at all (which in prac­tice won’t work), the term “net” in “No Net Loss” refers to the over­all bal­ance of loss and gain. This means that all envi­ron­men­tal losses need to be coun­ter­bal­anced by envi­ron­men­tal gains (which may only be pos­si­ble through restora­tion, e.g. plant­ing trees for cut­ting trees) to main­tain the sta­tus quo in terms of “No Net Loss” (that this con­cept is both com­plex and con­tro­ver­sial has been high­lighted again and again).

To trial and fos­ter the con­cept of “No Net Loss”, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has estab­lished a Work­ing Group on No Net Loss of Ecosys­tems and their Ser­vices and con­tracted a report on Pol­icy Options for an EU No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive” (IEEP 2014). This report together with the work of the No Net Loss work­ing group pro­vided the basis for a pub­lic on-line con­sul­ta­tionon a future (2015) EU ini­tia­tive to ensure there is no net loss of ecosys­tems and their ser­vices (see above) that the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has pub­lished in June 2014 (see also my pre­vi­ous post on this) .

New and inno­v­a­tive instru­ments and strate­gies to achieve “No Net Loss”

The sec­ond obser­va­tion on the bio­di­ver­sity pol­icy of the Euro­pean Union is the explo­ration and pro­mo­tion of “new and inno­v­a­tive instru­ments and strate­gies to achieve ‘No Net Loss’ of bio­di­ver­sity”. The adjec­tives “New” and “inno­v­a­tive” seem to open up a whole spec­trum of possibilities.

How­ever, the actual dis­cus­sion focuses more on a set of key­words that can be grouped under the umbrella of “mar­ket based instru­ments”, e.g. “Nat­ural Cap­i­tal”, “Pay­ments for Ecosys­tem Ser­vices”, “Trad­able Devel­op­ment Rights”, “Trad­able Per­mits”, “Habi­tat Bank­ing” etc.

Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets are often also assigned to this group of instru­ments because they imply a kind of “trade” between envi­ron­men­tal losses and envi­ron­men­tal gains. Nev­er­the­less, while the term “Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets” is rel­a­tively new and mostly used with ref­er­ence to mar­ket based instru­ments, the under­ly­ing con­cept is much older.

Com­pen­sa­tion for neg­a­tive envi­ron­men­tal impacts has been insti­tu­tion­al­ized in dif­fer­ent schemes under the envi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion of coun­tries like the US (Wet­land Mit­i­ga­tion after Clean Water Act and Con­ser­va­tion Bank­ing), Ger­many (“Ein­griff­s­regelung” = Impact Mit­i­ga­tion Reg­u­la­tion after Fed­eral Nature Pro­tec­tion Act), Canada (Fish habi­tat com­pen­sa­tion after the Fish­eries Act), Brazil (“for­est set-aside off­sets” after the For­est Code and “Project devel­op­ers’ off­sets” after the SNUC Act) and Aus­tralia (Biobank­ing in New South Wales and Bush Tender/Broker in Vic­to­ria). Fur­ther­more, com­pen­sa­tion approaches in the con­text of road plan­ning exist, e.g. in the Nether­lands, Fin­land and Swe­den (Darbi et al. 2010).

Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets on the ground

As has been said, com­pen­sa­tion approaches for impacts on bio­log­i­cal diver­sity have existed in numer­ous coun­tries world­wide already before bio­di­ver­sity off­sets became popular.

Lia­bil­ity for dam­ages is stip­u­lated under var­i­ous sec­toral laws, e.g. envi­ron­ment, min­ing, forests, waste and water. The “Pol­luter Pays Prin­ci­ple” is widely rec­og­nized. Accord­ing to this, gen­er­ally the project pro­po­nent is liable for the dam­ages caused by a devel­op­ment, and has there­fore to put in place appro­pri­ate com­pen­sa­tion mea­sures. (Darbi 2010a)

In the scope of the pro­mo­tion of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets as a new and inno­v­a­tive (but also inevitable) con­cept they have been trans­lated into dif­fer­ent con­texts worldwide.

In coun­tries with exist­ing off­set­ting schemes this has led to “reshuf­fling” the dis­cus­sion, e.g. in the US and Aus­tralia, or to fos­ter the enforce­ment, e.g. in France.

In other coun­tries the use of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets is being tri­aled, rang­ing from sin­gle pilots to whole cam­paigns to intro­duce off­sets as a legally bind­ing instru­ment, e.g. in the UK.


From global biodiversity loss to No Net Loss in the EU? — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Biodiversity Offsets need a strong regulatory system! Or voluntary engagement? - Biodiversity Offsets Blog

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