|BirdLife Europe position on biodiversity offsets
One of the key drivers of biodiversity loss is land use change from development and conversion to agriculture. Against this context there is an urgent need to review and strengthen biodiversity policy and look at new approaches. Biodiversity offsets are one of the new approaches being considered in a number of current initiatives.
What are biodiversity offsets:
Biodiversity offsets are conservation actions designed to compensate for the significant residual impact on biodiversity caused by development and other land use change activities, to ensure no net loss and, preferably, a net gain of biodiversity after appropriate steps have been taken to avoid and minimise impacts.
Summary of BirdLife’s position on biodiversity offsets in the EU:
For damage to Natura 2000 sites the current stringent offset system prescribed in Articles 6(3)(4) of the Habitats Directive must be maintained and its implementation strengthened.
For habitats and species of European Importance outside Natura 2000 a policy of no net loss of favourable conservation status (FCS) should be adopted, supported by a requirement to offset damage on a like-for like basis.
The key principles which we believe should be incorporated in such an offset system include: additionality, strong adherence to the mitigation hierarchy, a presumption that offsets will be located as close as possible to the damage, the need for offsets to be in place before damage, the need for clear and transparent assessment and quality assurance methods to ensure that all residual impacts are identified and appropriate compensation designed, the need for effective management, monitoring and quality control, and the need to learn from experience. It must be recognised that some habitats/species of Community interest will not be amenable to offsetting as they are either irreplaceable eg limestone pavements or cannot be restored or created within an acceptable timeframe e.g. climax ancient forests or peat bogs and hence that there will continue to be projects which are not acceptable on biodiversity grounds. In addition, recognition that the fact that offsets are possible should not give rise to a presumption that damaging activities will go ahead.
At the Member State level individual countries may also want biodiversity offset systems to contribute to other biodiversity policy targets eg national, regional or local biodiversity objectives.
BirdLife Europe full position on biodiversity offsets
Andrew Dodd, Andrew.dodd(at)rspb.org.uk
Helen Byron, helen.byron(at)rspb.org.uk
Sophie Herbert, Sophie.herbert(at)birdlife.org
Poorly designed and/or implemented offset systems can run the risk of causing a net loss in biodiversity. Some commonly identified weaknesses resulting in net biodiversity loss include:
- All biodiversity can be seen as tradable with no or little disincentive to avoid loss or damage in the first place;
- Offset systems can provide incentive to grant consent for projects that would not ordinarily be consented i.e. licence to trash;
- Companies may see the offset option as a simple shortcut to deal with biodiversity concerns;
- Poor/weak objectives can lead to weak outcomes for biodiversity;
- Lack of clear criteria about what can be offset and what cannot;
- Simplistic/poor standards can lead to net biodiversity loss;
- Poor regulation/oversight can lead to net biodiversity loss through insufficient checks and weak enforcement to ensure standards are met;
- Trading may not occur if the market is not well designed or if there is insufficient demand or supply.