More about this guideline
Offsets are the measures taken to compensate for any residual significant, adverse impacts that cannot be avoided, minimised, and restored, in order to achieve No Net Loss or a Net Gain of biodiversity. Offsets can take the form of positive management interventions, such as restoration of degraded habitat or arrested degradation, or averted risk, for example, protecting areas where there is imminent or projected loss of biodiversity.
Several sets of principles have been developed to help govern the planning and implementation of biodiversity offsets (BBOP 2009; Hardner et al. 2015; IUCN 2016). The major principles can be summarised as follows:
An offset typically seeks to generate benefits for the biodiversity value(s) impacted by a project. Offsets with these characteristics are known as ‘in-kind’ or ‘like-for-like’ offsets. Sometimes, however, it may be desirable to implement an offset that restores or conserves a biodiversity element of greater conservation value than that which is to be impacted by the project. For example, if a project impacts very common natural habitat in the landscape, it may be desirable to ‘trade up’ to an offset that conserves a rarer and/or more threatened habitat that has been identified as a priority for conservation. Such an ‘out-of-kind’ offset should only be implemented after appropriate consultation with conservation stakeholders to ensure both its technical validity (i.e., that the offset is genuinely of greater conservation value) and its public acceptance (i.e., that stakeholders view the offset as greater in perceived value).
In the context of a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), as it is a site of global importance and therefore increases reputational risk, biodiversity offsets should be designed and implemented to achieve a ‘Net Gain’ of the trigger element affected by the project. The concept of Net Gain of biodiversity is not new; it was first described as part of the United States Government’s wetlands management policies in the 1970s. Since then, it has evolved to a point where it is now a common objective of private-sector-based conservation management. Net Gain can be defined as a specific target or goal where the potential, and then actual, impacts of a project are outweighed by actions and activities taken to avoid, minimise, and restore the project impacts. Then, if residual impacts remain, those impacts are offset, so that there is a gain in biodiversity value as a result of the operation’s activities (Rainey et.al. 2015).
While the theory of Net Gain is straightforward, the actual planning and implementation of Net Gain strategies are often complex and challenging, particularly for companies that have little or no experience in this field. Figure 1 illustrates the biodiversity management stages for implementing an effective Net Gain approach (Aiama et. al. 2015). This five-stage process provides a systemic framework that will enable business projects to develop a Net Gain-driven management strategy for biodiversity conservation issues that will arise if they develop projects within KBAs. Importantly, this framework is not sector-specific, and can be applied to any KBA project scenario.
Figure 1. The five stages required to implement a successful Net Gain biodiversity management strategy (adapted from Aiama et. al. 2015).
With regard to the limits to offsets, IUCN’s Policy on Biodiversity Offsets states that, in certain circumstances, residual impacts on biodiversity (after completing the avoidance, minimisation, and rehabilitation steps of the mitigation hierarchy) cannot be offset. Additionally, there are some components of biodiversity for which impacts could theoretically be offset, but with a high risk of failure. Under these circumstances, biodiversity offsets are not appropriate, and this means that the project as designed should not proceed (See Box 1).
References and Resources
Aiama, D., Edwards, S., Bos, G., Ekstrom, J., Krueger, L., Quétier, F., Savy, C., Semroc, B., Sneary, M., and Bennun, L. (2015). No Net Loss and Net Positive Impact Approaches for Biodiversity: exploring the potential application of these approaches in the commercial agriculture and forestry sectors. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
BBOP (2009). Biodiversity Offset Implementation Handbook. Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme, Washington, DC.
Hardner, J., Gullison, R.E., Anstee, S., and Meyer, M. (2015). Good practices for biodiversity inclusive impact assessment and management planning. Prepared for the Multilateral Financing Institutions Biodiversity Working Group.
IUCN (2016), IUCN Policy on Biodiversity Offsets.
Rainey, H., Pollard, E., Dutson, G., Ekstrom, J., Livingstone, S., Temple, H., and Pilgrim, J. (2014). A review of corporate goals of No Net Loss and Net Positive Impact on biodiversity. In Oryx, Vol. 49, Issue 02, April 2015, pp. 232-238.
Temple, H., Edmonds, B., Butcher, B., and Treweek, J. (2010). Biodiversity Offsets: Testing a Possible Method for Measuring Biodiversity Losses and Gains at Bardon Hill Quarry, UK. In In Practice, Edition 70, December 2010. Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management.
Temple, H.J., Anstee, S., Ekstrom, J., Pilgrim, J.D., Rabenantoandro, J., Ramanamanjato, J.B., Randriatafika, F., and Vincelette, M. (2012). Forecasting the path towards a Net Positive Impact on biodiversity for Rio Tinto QMM. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.