This is a guest post by Ariadna Chavarria, PhD candidate at the University of Padova, Italy. This comment is the expression of the author’s thoughts and experiences and 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 Ariadna’s reasoning), please leave a reply below!
The Biodiversity and No Net Loss Strategy arise awareness among Europe to act urgently to halve the biodiversity loss and reach restoration of at least 15% of European degraded ecosystems by 2020 (European Commission, 2011). The strategies invite the Member States to use new instruments to achieve NNL of biodiversity and ecosystem services as for instance the implementation of biodiversity offsetting schemes (European Commission, 2011; Conway, M., et al., 2013b). Biodiversity offsets are measurable conservation outcomes of the actions implemented to compensation for unavoidable biodiversity impacts derived from development projects, after considering the mitigation hierarchy (ten Kate, et al., 2004). Therefore, biodiversity offsets are a set of policies regulated and institutionalized to trade Ecosystem Services through standard units, ‘credits’, commonly provided by landowners managing habitats to conserve specific environmental assets. The credits are regulated by the environmental agencies ensuring the delivery of environmental assets on the ground to equitably compensate for the impacts of public and/or private developing permittees. This market-based mechanism provide a more time-, cost– and ecologically-effective offsetting alternative (Eppink and Wätzold, 2009; Vaissière, A. and Levrel, H., 2015; van Teeffeelen, A., et al., 2015), by using economies of scale to finance to sustain the long-term management of ES exchanged in the biodiversity market. The lack of policies to implement mechanisms financing and regulating high value natural ecosystems inside and out Natura 2000 sites has contributed to the depletion of the European natural capital.
In the 70’s, the United States developed and started implementing, in the 80’s, Conservation and Mitigation Banking as regulated market-based mechanism to direct conservation actions for establishing, preserving and restoring habitats for the listed threatened and endangered species, according to the Endangered Species Act (1973) and the Clean Water Act (1972). Conservation and Mitigation Banking consist in the creation of environmental assets measured in credits in advance of the occurrence of unavoidable residual impacts of development projects. The reason of biodiversity banking popularity in the USA and favorable outcomes shown by banks does not limit to the business attainment of bankers (Madsen et al., 2010; Madsen et al, 2011; Denisoff and DeYoung, 2011), but to the conservation achievements the practitioners have encountered for species, habitat and the linked ecosystem functions (Denisoff and DeYoung, 2011; USFWS, 2014; Bunnet al., 2014; Mann, C. and Absher, 2014). In Europe, France, Germany, (mandatorily) and England (voluntarily) have implemented similar biodiversity banking mechanisms (Madsen et al., 2010; Madsen et al., 2011; Conway et al., 2013a) to address the gap between the European Environmental Impacts Compensation Regulations (Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC art 6 and 6; Bird Directive 2009/147/EC; and Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 85/337/EEC) and the lack of compensation alternatives. These market-based programs, recognized as Offsetting Supply, Compensation Pools and Biodiversity Banking in France, Germany and England, respectively, are setting the ground for more advance financing mechanisms for the conservation of the European threatened and endangered species and habitats.
Italy hosts nearly 50% of the plant species and 30% of the animal species of all Europe (ISPRA, 2014). In Italy 8 m2 per second are being paved, arising nearly 720 km2 of cemented soil (ISPRA, 2014). The high urbanization rate and the low compensation actions of such land use changes are causing the decrement of permeable land important for sustaining the biodiversity, hydric retention and other ES. Today, only the annex 1 projects of the Habitat Directive that have significant impacts over Natura 2000 sites are required to carry out compensation measures in Italy, without a considerable positive impact for conservation. The development of a biodiversity offsetting scheme for Italy would introduce a modern solution to tackle the Net Loss of ES. The use if ecosystem assets valuation tools as InVEST and ARIES will provide the sciences to support the regularization and institutionalization of a modern market-based mechanism directed to conserve high value natural areas in the Italian Territory. The identification and mapping of the ES most threatened and depleted by development projects, together with the mapping of the ES delivered by the natural areas needing restoration, would provide the sciences needed behind the implementation of an offsetting mechanism. Therefore, increased feasibility and credibility would support the regulation and institutionalization of an Italian offsetting mechanism with more effective results on the ground. In practice, the mapping of ES delivered by the high valued natural lands, as well as the recognition, mapping and valuation of the adversely impacted ES due to development projects will integrate science and policies developing a reliable market-based scheme addressing the No Net Loss of ES due to the high rate of land-use change in Italy. The regularization and institutionalization of such scheme would become a power reliable tool to standardize an environmental impacts compensation policy economically and ecologically sustainable.
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About Ariadna Chavarria
She has a MSc in Forestry and Environment at the University of Padua, where currently she is currently pursuing a PhD on ecosystem services, environmental impacts assessment, environmental impacts compensation schemes and biodiversity banking (2013–2016).
Besides, Ariadna have collaborated in market-research projects for FSC® certified non-timber forest products, as well as projects on sustainable development and natural resources management, REDD projects and forest certifications, guidelines development and personnel training on green public procurement, and most recently, the development of fair trade standards for wood products at ETIFOR srl.
Today, Ariadna is an intern at the USFish and Wildlife Service where she is responsible for the Oversight and Compliance of the Conservation Banks in operation in the Sacramento Region in California, USA (Region 8 of the USFWS). Ariadna has gained experience in the field of evaluation and assessment of environmental impacts and the policies and voluntary mechanisms in USA and Europe to offset the loss of biodiversity.