Offsets in the system

It’s a simple idea that some hold up as the key to sustainable development. Others regard it as opening a Pandora’s Box. Offsetting simply involves compensating for the impacts of development in one part of the landscape by doing something in another part of the landscape to ensure there is no net loss of biodiversity. For example, in building a new suburb over here you might clear some native vegetation. The offset might involve restoring some native vegetation over there so the loss in one place is restored in another – there is no net loss of biodiversity.

Of course, the Devil is in the detail and concepts of baselines, like-for-like, delayed payments and irreplaceability are all major challenges in making biodiversity offsetting work. It’s a topic that EDG researchers have been engaging with for some time (see a summary of the key stories that have appeared in Decision Point). Given this involvement over time it might be argued that the EDG is one of the world’s leading research networks engaging with biodiversity offsets.

This issue of Decision Point again focusses on biodiversity offsets but this time we take a broader view of where and how they fit in. You might call it a systems view. Megan Evans gets the ball rolling with a discussion on the legal, policy and institutional dimensions of offsetting. Martine Maron and Ascelin Gordon explore the possible perverse flow-on impacts of offsets even if they are well designed. Georgia Garrard and colleagues examine offsets against other forms of conservation whereas Ascelin Gordon explains how the process of backcasting might improve offsets policy. Finally, James Trezise provides a perspective on influencing policy where he discusses the fundamental importance of science to policy and reflects on the experience of developing offsets policy.

David Salt

Editor, Decision Point

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