IUCN: Technical group to advise on a biodiversity offset policy

At the request of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), The Biodiversity Consultancy co-chaired a technical study group to help IUCN develop a policy on biodiversity offsets. This group assessed the technical and policy issues concerning biodiversity offsets, described areas of general stakeholder convergence, and highlighted unresolved issues and how they might be addressed. The technical group’s findings are summarised in a report which will assist a policy group within IUCN in designing guidance on biodiversity offsets to over 1,200 government and civil society IUCN Members.

As part of the process, we developed an input paper which reviews the technical conditions necessary for positive outcomes for biodiversity offsets, including the conditions under which it is possible to achieve no net loss through the implementation of offsets. This paper builds on our biodiversity offsets report for the IUCN World Congress, and is the most comprehensive report on these subjects to date. The report assesses recent scientific and practical advances related to offsets, concluding that there is high-level consensus on biodiversity offsetting principles and best-practice.

The scientific community, informed stakeholders and much government policy agree on the basic principles to achieve no net loss and for optimal offsetting. The report demonstrates that there is often a trade-off between certainty and simplicity: basing an offsetting system on the best available science may lead to it being impossible to implement because of the transaction costs such a system would incur. The report thus concludes that there is a need for the conservation community to often applaud voluntary offset efforts, actively support attempts to achieve no net loss through best-practice offsets, and provide practical guidance and constructive criticism within a safe learning environment. Current offsetting outcomes would be most improved by integration of societal biodiversity conservation goals, greater adherence to the mitigation hierarchy (i.e. as a last resort after avoidance, minimisation, restoration and rehabilitation) and better implementation.