Perverse incentives risk undermining biodiversity offset policies — new paper by Gordon et al

Ascelin Gor­don, Joe Bull, Chris Wilcox and Mar­tine Maron have pub­lished a new paper enti­tled “Per­verse incen­tives risk under­min­ing bio­di­ver­sity off­set poli­cies” in Jour­nal of Applied Ecol­ogy (Feb­ru­ary 2015). Read more on the Jour­nal web­site (pay-walled). For more infor­ma­tion see also a the sum­mary below.



  1. Off­set­ting is emerg­ing as an impor­tant but con­tro­ver­sial approach for man­ag­ing environment–development con­flicts. Bio­di­ver­sity off­sets are designed to com­pen­sate for dam­age to bio­di­ver­sity from devel­op­ment by pro­vid­ing bio­di­ver­sity gains elsewhere.
  2. Here, we sug­gest how bio­di­ver­sity off­set poli­cies can gen­er­ate behav­iours that exac­er­bate bio­di­ver­sity decline, and iden­tify four per­verse incen­tives that could arise even from soundly designed policies.
  3. These include incen­tives for (i) entrench­ing or exac­er­bat­ing base­line bio­di­ver­sity declines, (ii) wind­ing back non-offset con­ser­va­tion actions, (iii) crowd­ing out of con­ser­va­tion vol­un­teerism and (iv) false pub­lic con­fi­dence in envi­ron­men­tal out­comes due to mar­ket­ing off­set actions as gains.
  4. Syn­the­sis and appli­ca­tions. Despite its goal of improv­ing bio­di­ver­sity out­comes, there is poten­tial for best-practice off­set­ting to achieve the oppo­site result. Reduc­ing this risk requires cou­pling off­set cred­it­ing base­lines to mea­sured tra­jec­to­ries of bio­di­ver­sity change and under­stand­ing the poten­tial inter­ac­tion between off­set­ting and other envi­ron­men­tal policies.

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