Balancing Conservation and Development
The need to balance conservation and development is increasingly urgent. While avoiding and minimizing impacts where possible are crucial steps, serious declines in biodiversity are still happening, and unavoidable development impacts are likely to continue to drive losses. This negatively impacts nature, ecosystem services and livelihoods.
Compensatory conservation approaches, including biodiversity offsets, in-lieu fees and out-of-kind conservation actions, internalize negative externalities associated with development. As such, they can potentially provide strong economic incentives for developers to follow the mitigation hierarchy, as well as achieving better and more socially-acceptable conservation outcomes.
Biodiversity offsetting is perhaps the most well-known compensatory conservation approach, but it is not the only one, nor is it necessarily the most appropriate in a given context. While offsetting – if done well – represents a very strict standard, with trading restricted to within narrow categories of biota and a goal of at least ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity, the most effective type of compensation will depend on a large range of factors.
Context is important. No net loss outcomes in many cases may be incompatible with essential development, strict like-for-like requirements may mean that opportunities for better outcomes for higher conservation priorities are missed, and different approaches to trading biodiversity losses for gains have different implications for local communities affected by both sides of the exchange.
An IUCN policy on offsets has been adopted at 2016’s World Conservation Congress (available here). Industry increasingly is recognizing the potential to generate license-to-operate using offsets and other compensatory approaches, and lending organisations such as the International Finance Corporation and major commercial banks now often require compensation for unavoidable biodiversity impacts.
How can people learn from existing experiences to create and provide better guidance and approaches that result in the desired conservation outcomes?