On 3 and 4 June 2014, 280 individuals from 32 countries met in London to discuss how to ensure that development is planned to achieve no net loss or preferably a net gain in biodiversity. Hosted by Forest Trends, the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP), the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) at ZSL, the representatives came from companies in the extractive, energy, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry and retail sectors, from governments and intergovernmental organisations, from financial institutions, NGOs, civil society, universities, research organisations and from consultancies and small businesses. They explored international experience and policy on no net loss and a net gain of biodiversity, and everyone was searching for practical solutions to reconcile development with environmental protection and social fairness.
The final conference report is available here and provides a summary of discussions at the conference.
Many useful lessons were shared throughout the two days and recommendations sprang from every session. However, a number of cross-cutting, key issues emerged as major themes from the two days’ discussions, as summarized below:
- Strengthen protection: Activities, policies and frameworks to mitigate impacts on biodiversity, including those related to biodiversity offsets, must strengthen and not weaken biodiversity protection. Improving the application of the mitigation hierarchy and working towards no net loss and a net gain of biodiversity is intended to ensure greater rigour and a better outcome for conservation than under current systems, and not to undermine them.
- Clear policy: For NNL/NG to become a realistic prospect in a country, clear and unambiguous policy requirements that establishes high standards are needed. Many participants doubted whether voluntary systems are enough to encourage a big enough proportion of developers to plan for no net loss, nor landowners to invest in conservation activities as offsets. All participants accepted that government has a critical role to play, levelling the playing field, reducing uncertainties for business, ensuring good outcomes for people, and keeping standards high
- Biodiversity offsets in context: There is general recognition that biodiversity offsetting can be challenging and controversial, but that when offsets are used, they must be discussed and included within the broader mitigation framework, and not raised as an isolated issue.
- High standards: In any impact mitigation programme (including biodiversity offsets), in order to enable good outcomes for biodiversity and people, it is critical to apply the mitigation hierarchy consistently according to high standards, such as those reflected in the BBOP Standard and IFC Performance Standard 6. In the course of negotiations with governments and companies over the design of a mitigation programme, emphasis should be placed first on discussions related to avoidance, minimization and on-site restoration. Flexibility in the approaches taken to achieve no net loss was encouraged, but clarity on the biodiversity outcome was felt to be important. Standards need to strike a balance between being too prescriptive to be practicable and being too flexible to be credible or to offer assurance of outcomes.
- Landscape level planning: Assessing proposed project development and mitigation of impacts in the context of spatial plans undertaken at a landscape or national scale is important to support sound land use decision-making. For instance, it informs where development should or should not take place. No net loss planning should be integrated within broader planning and policy frameworks. Where possible, guidelines to identify “no-go” zones and areas of high biodiversity value suitable for conservation efforts through offsets should be identified as a matter of policy and not relegated to case-by-case decisions.
- Capacity building and training: There is a shortage of people with the right expertise to understand and to undertake the assessments and planning needed for no net loss, and to interpret and use the results. This is an important limitation and needs to be corrected by training of staff from government agencies, companies, consultancies and civil society and research organisations. Certification of trained individuals would help build confidence that professionals are using high standards.
- Examples: More examples of best practice with successful approaches and outcomes are needed to build confidence in the concepts of no net loss, net gain and the quality of mitigation measures, including biodiversity offsets. Examples that are independently verified against agreed international standards would be the most convincing.
- Monitoring, verification and enforcement: These are vital for the quality and integrity of mitigation measures including offsets, and have often been neglected in the past.
- More dialogue: International, multi-stakeholder discussion involving people with very different opinions about the merits of mitigation measures and biodiversity offsets is needed in order to reach and promote wide societal agreement on the necessary standards for mitigation measures and associated land-use planning. Even those with apparently opposing positions were able to move a little closer through an exchange of ideas during the conference and such dialogue should be continued.