Integrating social gains with ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity — a comment by Victoria Griffiths

This is a guest post by Vic­to­ria Grif­fiths, PhD Stu­dent at Impe­r­ial Col­lege Lon­don (UK). This com­ment is the expres­sion of the author’s thoughts and expe­ri­ences and as such is acknowl­edged as a fruit­ful con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cus­sion on bio­di­ver­sity off­sets. If you want to react or clar­ify your own posi­tion (under­pin or dis­prove Victoria’s rea­son­ing), please leave a reply below!

Land use activ­i­ties may be neg­a­tively impacted by devel­op­ment and off­set­ting activ­i­ties (Photo by VF Griffiths)

Bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting needs to deliver the con­ser­va­tion gains for ‘no net loss’ with­out mak­ing local peo­ple worse off. In prac­ti­cal terms, this means that ben­e­fits pro­vided to local com­mu­ni­ties by both the devel­op­ment and the off­set must be greater than the costs that they endure.

But, with much guid­ance on bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting being focused on eco­log­i­cal aspects and only to a lesser extent on local com­mu­ni­ties and social aspects, are efforts to deliver social gains imple­mented and eval­u­ated in a way that allows us to learn what works?

From my inves­ti­ga­tions so far, it seems that the con­sid­er­a­tion of social impacts (direct and indi­rect) from both devel­op­ment and off­set­ting activ­i­ties needs to be more embed­ded within the off­set process. There also seems to be a need for inclu­sion of social impacts into assess­ment of the out­comes of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets. Bio­di­ver­sity based off­set activ­i­ties could ben­e­fit both bio­di­ver­sity and local com­mu­ni­ties, but the ques­tion is how can this be achieved practically?

I am in the early plan­ning stages of my PhD at Impe­r­ial Col­lege Lon­don, look­ing at the most effec­tive ways to inte­grate no net loss of bio­di­ver­sity, the con­cept that under­pins bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting, with social gains. I will be using Uganda as a case study.

 Case study: Bio­di­ver­sity loss and social impacts from devel­op­ments activ­i­ties in Uganda

Uganda, one of the poor­est coun­tries in the world, has a large num­ber of pro­tected areas, the major­ity of which are located in the Alber­tine Rift, West­ern Uganda. The region is famous for its vari­ety of ecosys­tems and bio­log­i­cal diver­sity and is rec­og­nized glob­ally as a bio­di­ver­sity hotspot. This means that the Alber­tine Rift is one of the most impor­tant con­ser­va­tion regions in Africa. But major threats to the Rift and its pro­tected areas exist, includ­ing poach­ing for bush­meat, ille­gal tim­ber har­vest­ing, char­coal burn­ing, encroach­ment of agri­cul­ture and eco­nomic development.

Lake Victoria, Uganda (Photo by VF Griffiths)

Lake Vic­to­ria, Uganda (Photo by VF Griffiths)

Post VGriffiths_Hydropower Plant

Hydropower plant on the River Nile near Jinja, Uganda (source: Euro­pean Invest­ment Bank © EIB Photolibrary)

 Uganda is cur­rently expe­ri­enc­ing a large amount of eco­nomic devel­op­ment with energy and trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture devel­op­ment being iden­ti­fied as a key pri­or­ity. Devel­op­ment projects in Uganda used to result in a loss of bio­di­ver­sity. But now, the National Envi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Author­ity (NEMA) requires devel­op­ers to take some form of action to com­pen­sate for the bio­di­ver­sity damage.

 I am plan­ning on look­ing at sev­eral devel­op­ment activ­i­ties in Uganda that have resulted in some form of bio­di­ver­sity loss. Using these projects, we will look at the asso­ci­ated social impacts of the devel­op­ment (both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive), inves­ti­gate how the com­mu­ni­ties in the area use the land and asso­ci­ated bio­di­ver­sity, and then look at com­mu­nity per­cep­tions of how an off­set might work in a way that ben­e­fits them while also ensur­ing no net loss of bio­di­ver­sity. We will use the results in a spa­tial plan­ning study, which will help pro­vide infor­ma­tion on the social and bio­di­ver­sity trade-offs that dif­fer­ent choices of devel­op­ment and off­set sites might engender.

 What are your thoughts and experiences?

 I am keen to engage with oth­ers on this work and wel­come your views on social impacts and bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting. Please send your views to A few ques­tions that come to mind include:

  • Do you think it is impor­tant to take the social impacts of dif­fer­ent off­set­ting options into account while devel­op­ing a bio­di­ver­sity offset?
  • How are the social aspects of bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting imple­mented, mon­i­tored and their effec­tive­ness measured?
  • Do you think that there is a gap in the lit­er­a­ture and off­set­ting guide­lines relat­ing to the social impacts of bio­di­ver­sity offsetting?
  • Are the social impacts asso­ci­ated with bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting prop­erly and fully appre­ci­ated and accounted for? If not, what are the imped­i­ments to this?
  • In your expe­ri­ence, have you come across any off­set­ting stud­ies or imple­men­ta­tion plans that take social impacts into account?
  • Do you think there are dif­fer­ences between the way in which social impacts of off­set­ting are under­stood and addressed in dif­fer­ent parts of the world?

 I look for­ward to receiv­ing your feedback!


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