No Net Loss Initiative – risk or chance for nature? Political session of the German green party left the issue biased

No Net Loss Initiative_PostLast Fri­day I have been to a polit­i­cal ses­sion orga­nized by the Ger­man Green party (Die Grü­nen) of the Fed­eral Par­lia­ment (Bun­destag) in Berlin. Steffi Lemke, par­lia­men­tary exec­u­tive and speaker for nature con­ser­va­tion poli­cies for the Green party, invited experts and the inter­ested pub­lic to dis­cuss the cur­rent dis­cus­sion and devel­op­ment of the EU towards a No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive (see my pre­vi­ous post here).

Intro­duc­tion to the session

The rel­a­tively small audi­ence of around 25 par­tic­i­pants included rep­re­sen­ta­tives from nature con­ser­va­tion orga­ni­za­tions, such as BUND (Bund für Umwelt– und Naturschutz Deutsch­land), DUH (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) and WWF (World­wide Fund for Nature), but also from the Fed­eral Min­istry for the envi­ron­ment, the Fed­eral Asso­ci­a­tion of Ger­man land­scape archi­tects and some researchers.

After a short wel­come note the host, Steffi Lemke, gave an intro­duc­tion to the aims of the three-hour long event: What is the planned No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive of the Euro­pean Union all about? What is the cur­rent state of devel­op­ment and dis­cus­sion? What are the risks and chances? Will this mean an econ­o­miza­tion of the envi­ron­ment and to put a price tag on nature? And what about the appli­ca­tion of the mit­i­ga­tion hierarchy?

Pre­sen­ta­tions by three invited speakers

Fol­low­ing, three invited speak­ers gave 20 min­utes of pre­sen­ta­tion fol­lowed by a short ques­tion and answer ses­sion each.

Mag­nus Wes­sel, head of nature con­ser­va­tion pol­icy at the BUND spoke about the state of dis­cus­sion of the EU No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive. He started with the image of a half-empty vs. half-full glass: On the one hand w wit­ness that threat­ened and promi­nent species such as the wolf have been increased in num­bers. On the other hand “pro­fane” species and bio­di­ver­sity as a whole is being lost. Already the 2010 goal of the EU to halt bio­di­ver­sity loss hasn’t been reached. On this back­ground, the idea of off­set­ting – also seen the par­al­lels to the Ger­man Impact Mit­i­ga­tion Reg­u­la­tion — is tempt­ing. How­ever, he argued that the cur­rent con­sul­ta­tion of the EU on the planned No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive too nar­rowly focuses on off­set­ting and thus loses the broad scope of instru­ments and approaches that “No Net Loss” would have ini­tially included. Fur­ther­more, he feared a new reg­u­la­tion of the EU on off­set­ting would only be pos­si­ble in a polit­i­cal give-and-take that would ulti­mately weaken exist­ing reg­u­la­tion, in par­tic­u­lar the Birds and Habi­tats Direc­tive. Instead, he con­cluded, we need a per­ma­nently effec­tive sys­tem to deal with the neg­a­tive impair­ments of the environment.

Dr. Heidi Wittmer, deputy head of the depart­ment for envi­ron­men­tal pol­icy at the Helmholtz Cen­tre for Envi­ron­men­tal Research (UFZ) held a pre­sen­ta­tion enti­tled “No Net Loss: Chances for bio­di­ver­sity and financ­ing”. She pointed to a study that com­pared sev­eral hun­dreds of ecosys­tems and restored ecosys­tems, stat­ing that restored ecosys­tems can hardly ever match exist­ing ecosys­tems and restora­tion per se is a very dif­fi­cult task. While she cau­tiously men­tioned that off­set­ting as such can have advan­tages and deliver a pos­i­tive out­come for nature she con­cluded that both off­set­ting prac­tice (includ­ing the expe­ri­ences from the Ger­man Impact Mit­i­ga­tion Reg­u­la­tion) and the cur­rent dis­cus­sion about the intro­duc­tion of a EU no net loss pol­icy (by which is meant bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting) have flaws. She also raised the ques­tion what this would mean for the sit­u­a­tion in Ger­many and its Impact Mit­i­ga­tion Reg­u­la­tion (Ein­griff­s­regelung) and antic­i­pated that it most likely can’t go beyond the exist­ing national provisions.

Jutta Kill, polit­i­cal activist against bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting, con­tin­ued in the same line. In her pre­sen­ta­tion on the risks of the No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive for nature con­ser­va­tion she ques­tioned any impact mit­i­ga­tion reg­u­la­tion as such and gave exam­ples for lack­ing or dis­torted imple­men­ta­tion of the Ein­griff­s­regelung. As a result in some cases it was even per­ceived as absurd by the local pop­u­la­tion. She con­tin­ued her line of argu­men­ta­tion that off­set­ting risks to replace stake­holder par­tic­i­pa­tion and con­sid­er­a­tion of local com­mu­nity inter­ests. Thus, she high­lighted the rel­e­vance of the dis­cus­sion as a broad soci­etal con­cern that goes beyond tech­ni­cal or expert dialogs. She also led to a dis­cus­sion of the value of nature (de dicto vs. de re, i.e. the unique value of an ecosys­tem vs. the value of its func­tions). Fur­ther­more, she claimed that the cur­rent debate on a No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive and bio­di­ver­sity off­sets would try to tackle the prob­lem of bio­di­ver­sity loss from the wrong start­ing point and thus even hin­der to cope with “real solu­tions”. This refers in par­tic­u­lar to the neces­sity to reduce the still increas­ing land use and to avoid neg­a­tive impairments.

See the pre­sen­ta­tion here (in Ger­man): Jutta Kill_Fachgespräch Sept2014 No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive

Dis­cus­sion on risks and chances of bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets and the planned No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive and my per­sonal obsevation

Start­ing the dis­cus­sion, Steffi Lemke con­tested that the three pre­sen­ta­tions painted a rather unbal­anced pic­ture that focused more on the risks and hardly men­tioned any chances. She there­fore encour­aged to con­sider also the pos­si­ble chances of a No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive. Unfor­tu­nately the dis­cus­sion didn’t add very much to this sit­u­a­tion as the audi­ence rather unan­i­mously posi­tioned them­selves against bio­di­ver­sity off­sets and had already fixed firmly their dis­ap­proval of the No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive, with a few exceptions.

Nat­u­rally, this is not a good pre­req­ui­site for a lively and con­tro­ver­sial dis­cus­sion and the whole event stayed way behind its aim to con­sider chances and risks, which was basi­cally due to an unbal­anced choice of speak­ers. I per­son­ally felt forced to strongly express a pro off­set­ting plea to at least try to coun­ter­bal­ance the over­weight of neg­a­tive argu­ments (even though I actu­ally don’t want to take a biased one side position).

How­ever, despite some good and insight­ful thoughts being expressed by a few par­tic­i­pants, the dis­cus­sion and the ses­sion as such didn’t man­age to bring “fresh wind” into the no net loss debate and I departed dis­ap­pointed about the seem­ingly already fixed mind­set towards this issue.

Steffi Lemke closed the ses­sion express­ing the need to bring the dis­cus­sion more into the pub­lic and national politic dis­cus­sion in the upcom­ing weeks and months. She also con­cluded that it is no option to sim­ply reject the planned No Net Loss Ini­tia­tive, but instead to impose strong prospects and to actively shape it to over­come the per­ceived deficiencies.

As I have pointed out, the line of argu­men­ta­tion in the pre­sen­ta­tions and the dis­cus­sion was biased, so that a detailed descrip­tion of the men­tioned pros and cons wouldn’t add much to the (more elab­o­rated) cur­rent state of dis­cus­sion) and thus don’t make much sense.

For fur­ther infor­ma­tion and back­ground see also the offi­cial invi­ta­tion and pro­gram.



No Net Loss Initiative – risk or chance for nature? Political session of the German green party left the issue biased — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Biodiversity Offsets Newsweek, September 22-28, 2014 - Biodiversity Offsets Blog

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