Mining and biodiversity offsets: A transparent and science-based approach to measure “no-net-loss” — new paper by Virah-Sawmy, Ebel­ing and Taplin

Malika Virah-Sawmy, Johannes Ebel­ing and Roslyn Taplin have pub­lished a new paper on “Min­ing and bio­di­ver­sity off­sets: A trans­par­ent and science-based approach to mea­sure “no-net-loss” in Jour­nal of Envi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment (Vol­ume 143, 1 Octo­ber 2014, Pages 61–70). Read more here and find the abstract copied below.


Min­ing and asso­ci­ated infra­struc­ture devel­op­ments can present them­selves as eco­nomic oppor­tu­ni­ties that are dif­fi­cult to forego for devel­op­ing and indus­tri­alised coun­tries alike. Almost inevitably, how­ever, they lead to bio­di­ver­sity loss. This trade-off can be great­est in eco­nom­i­cally poor but highly bio­di­verse regions. Bio­di­ver­sity off­sets have, there­fore, increas­ingly been pro­moted as a mech­a­nism to help achieve both the aims of devel­op­ment and bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion. Accord­ingly, this mech­a­nism is emerg­ing as a key tool for multi­na­tional min­ing com­pa­nies to demon­strate good envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship. Rely­ing on off­sets to achieve “no-net-loss” of bio­di­ver­sity, how­ever, requires cer­tainty in their eco­log­i­cal integrity where they are used to sanc­tion habi­tat destruction.

Here, we dis­cuss real-world prac­tices in bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting by assess­ing how well some lead­ing ini­tia­tives inter­na­tion­ally inte­grate crit­i­cal aspects of bio­di­ver­sity attrib­utes, net loss account­ing and project man­age­ment. With the aim of improv­ing, rather than merely cri­tiquing the approach, we analyse dif­fer­ent aspects of bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting. Fur­ther, we analyse the poten­tial pit­falls of devel­op­ing coun­ter­fac­tual sce­nar­ios of bio­di­ver­sity loss or gains in a project’s absence. In this, we draw on insights from expe­ri­ence with car­bon off­set­ting. This informs our dis­cus­sion of real­is­tic pro­jec­tions of project effec­tive­ness and per­ma­nence of ben­e­fits to ensure no net losses, and the risk of dis­plac­ing, rather than avoid­ing bio­di­ver­sity losses (“leak­age”). We show that the most promi­nent exist­ing bio­di­ver­sity off­set ini­tia­tives employ broad and some­what arbi­trary para­me­ters to mea­sure habi­tat value and do not suf­fi­ciently con­sider real-world chal­lenges in com­pen­sat­ing losses in an effec­tive and last­ing man­ner. We pro­pose a more trans­par­ent and science-based approach, sup­ported with a new for­mula, to help design bio­di­ver­sity off­sets to realise their poten­tial in enabling more respon­si­ble min­ing that bet­ter bal­ances eco­nomic devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for min­ing and bio­di­ver­sity conservation.


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