Will offsets save or sink Protected Areas? — New paper by Pilgrim and Bennun

This is a guest post by The Bio­di­ver­sity Con­sul­tancy, a UK-based con­sul­tancy spe­cial­ized in bio­di­ver­sity off­sets. This  is the expres­sion of the author’s thoughts and expe­ri­ences and as such is acknowl­edged as a fruit­ful con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cus­sion on bio­di­ver­sity off­sets. If you want to react or clar­ify your own posi­tion , please leave a reply below!

At the recent World Parks Con­gress in Syd­ney, a lively dis­cus­sion ses­sion focused on a new paper by John Pil­grim and Leon Ben­nun (from The Bio­di­ver­sity Con­sul­tancy). Pub­lished in the jour­nal Con­ser­va­tion Let­ters, this view­point arti­cle exam­ines the issue of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets in Pro­tected Areas (PAs). Increas­ingly, off­sets are being seen as an inno­v­a­tive financ­ing mech­a­nism for PAs – an approach wel­comed by cash-strapped Gov­ern­ments that are strug­gling to meet pro­tected area goals. It is also viewed pos­i­tively by devel­op­ers, who gain a clear route to trans­fer man­age­ment respon­si­bil­ity, assur­ance of long-term out­comes and high-profile  deliv­ery of com­pen­sa­tion.
But is this appar­ent ‘win-win’ all it seems?

Per­haps not, as off­sets in PAs raise poten­tial con­cerns in three areas:

  • Are new funds really adding to con­ser­va­tion resources, or just replac­ing them (additionality)?
  • Are the bio­di­ver­sity gains fair com­pen­sa­tion for the bio­di­ver­sity lost (comparability)?
  • Will off­sets be sus­tained over time, at least for as long as the impacts (longevity)?

The paper makes three key rec­om­men­da­tions to address these concerns:

  • Many Gov­ern­ments in poor coun­tries are strug­gling to meet their com­mit­ments to Aichi Tar­get 11 on PAs, and many PA net­works are severely under­funded. In these cases (but not for wealth­ier coun­tries) there is tem­po­rary addi­tion­al­ity, and thus a strong ratio­nale for off­sets in PAs. As national economies improve, how­ever, fund­ing for the PA sys­tem should be picked up more fully by Government.
  • Where  a PA off­set holds dif­fer­ent bio­di­ver­sity to the impact site, there is a risk of ‘trad­ing down’. To avoid this, off­sets should focus on the highest-priority habi­tats, iden­ti­fied via a well-designed, large-scale con­ser­va­tion plan. Ide­ally, this would be com­bined with an ‘aggre­gated off­set’ approach pool­ing com­pen­sa­tion from dif­fer­ent devel­op­ments, to max­imise benefits.
  • Man­age­ment for PA off­sets would usu­ally be passed to the rel­e­vant PA author­ity. Money for off­set man­age­ment, though, is best chan­nelled through an inde­pen­dent mech­a­nism (for exam­ple, a trust fund). This will make sure that money goes to the off­set itself, and isn’t redi­rected or taken as a gen­eral top-up for trea­sury funds. All off­sets, whether or not in a Pro­tected Area, do need a solid guar­an­tee of ade­quate long-term fund­ing – a cost that is best bud­geted and secured before devel­op­ment starts.

To request a copy of this pub­li­ca­tion, con­tact, enquiries@thebiodiversityconsultancy.com


Will offsets save or sink Protected Areas? — New paper by Pilgrim and Bennun — 2 Comments

  1. Hi there,

    I think this is a very impor­tant issue to be dis­cussed, as these bio­di­ver­sity off­sets in Pro­tected Areas (PAs) trades made by devel­op­ers con­tribute to the trans­fer­ence of gov­ern­men­tal respon­s­abil­i­ties to com­pa­nies dur­ing the license­ment process. In this way, the gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies grad­u­ally trans­fer their respon­s­abil­i­ties to devel­op­ers mak­ing these actions a trend in off­set­ting. In Brazil, cases like these are becom­ing a com­mon prac­tice, prin­ci­pally in projects located in unas­sisted areas, such as in the ama­zon hydroelet­ri­cal projects.

    • Thanks for your very much appre­ci­ated com­ment and insight, Fer­nando. I sup­pose, you know the bio­di­ver­sity off­set the­ory and prac­tice in Brazil very well — maybe you can pro­vide some exam­ples to illus­trate where this shift of respon­si­bil­i­ties has taken place on a sin­gle case basis — or is there evi­dence that this is (as you say) becom­ing “com­mon prac­tice” at a more gen­eral level?

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