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.
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