Love or Leave? The controversy about Biodiversity Offsets

Controversy on Biodiversity Offsets (Image created for Biodiversity Offsets Blog by Marianne Darbi)

No to Bio­di­ver­sity Offsetting?

As bio­di­ver­sity off­sets become more vis­i­ble in the pub­lic they are sub­ject to a grow­ing con­tro­versy. Crit­ics of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets have a grow­ing lobby, espe­cially in the UK, where the gov­ern­ment seems to rush, want­ing to push through the con­cept of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets, no mat­ter at what expense and quality.

As a result a num­ber of bio­di­ver­sity off­set pilots, that have been tri­aled, are fac­ing severe crit­i­cism and resis­tance, mostly by the local pop­u­la­tion and NGOs:

The pol­icy is inher­ently flawed: bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting ignores the dif­fi­cul­ties in recre­at­ing ecosys­tems, it over­looks the unique­ness of dif­fer­ent habi­tats, and it dis­re­gards the impor­tance of nature for local com­mu­ni­ties. (source: 2nd Forum on the Nat­ural Com­mons)

Are bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets a License to trash?

The “license to trash” crit­i­cism has resulted in var­i­ous writ­ings (e.g. by George Mon­biot in his col­umn in the Guardian), events (e.g. Forum on the Nat­ural Com­mons) and cam­paign­ing (No to bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting), up to a recent mock­u­men­tary[1].

Con­tro­versy: What dis­tin­guishes oppo­nents and pro­po­nents of Bio­di­ver­sity Offsets?

The dis­tinc­tion between oppo­nents and pro­po­nents in the cur­rent dis­cus­sion comes done to a ques­tion of framing.

There are on the one side the oppo­nents who argue from an eth­i­cal and moral (or even philo­soph­i­cal) per­spec­tive that bio­di­ver­sity can’t be mea­sured and val­ued in eco­nomic terms and by its very nature is irre­place­able and thus not offsettable.

On the other side the pro­po­nents of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets take a more prag­matic view claim­ing that bio­di­ver­sity off­sets are inevitable when­ever devel­op­ment takes place.

Where are we now and where to from here?

While cer­tainly both sides are mak­ing a point, nei­ther side has man­aged the issue so far: the first one is lack­ing to sug­gest solu­tions (while get­ting the big­ger pic­ture right) and the sec­ond is sug­gest­ing pos­si­bly weak solu­tions (that don’t get the big­ger picture).

A weak point is that the dis­cus­sion about bio­di­ver­sity off­sets as a con­cept isn’t held in acad­e­mia, but more as a soci­etal dis­cus­sion – loaded with emo­tions and value judgments.

It is cer­tain that bio­di­ver­sity off­sets con­cern many peo­ple. And there­fore it is good that the dis­cus­sion is held in pub­lic. But the “hus­tle and bus­tle of quickly picked argu­ments” that can be fre­quently observed doesn’t help very much.

So, Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets — whether you love or leave them — should become sub­ject of a “well-informed debate” instead.


[1] A fic­tion film done in a par­o­dic doc­u­men­tary style (Clark 2002)



Love or Leave? The controversy about Biodiversity Offsets — 3 Comments

  1. Pingback: 15 ways how you can contribute to the Biodiversity Offsets Blog - Biodiversity Offsets Blog

    • Thanks Jo for your com­ment. You are in fact point­ing out a very cru­cial point, i.e. we need to focus on the QUALITY of an ecosys­tem rather than the QUANTITY (and any math­e­mat­i­cal rela­tions or cal­cu­la­tions that a No Net Loss approach might imply) first! How­ever, I am not say­ing, that peo­ple doing off­sets aren’t aware of this, but I think it is vital to remem­ber that bio­di­ver­sity off­sets are in a trap between (nec­es­sary?) stan­dard­iza­tion and harm­ful oversimplification…

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