Biodiversity is the variety of life forms on earth: the different animals, plants and micro-organisms, their genes and the ecosystems of which they are part. Biodiversity provides beneficial ecosystem services to humankind, including oxygen production, soil formation, water purification, climate stabilization, pollination and waste decomposition.
This rich diversity is being lost at a greatly accelerated rate due to human activity. Somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of all mammal, bird, and amphibian species are threatened with extinction. Loss of biodiversity leads to a reduction in the amount and quality of ecosystem services on which people and businesses depend. Major causes include the loss of habitat due to construction – of roads, dams, mines, oil and gas installations, residential and commercial buildings and other infrastructure – and as a result of planting crops such as palm oil and soybean.
A biodiversity offset is a way to demonstrate that an infrastructure project can be implemented in a manner that results in no net loss or a net gain of biodiversity. BBOP defines biodiversity offsets as “measurable conservation outcomes of actions designed to compensate for significant residual adverse biodiversity impacts arising from project development after appropriate prevention and mitigation measures have been taken. The goal of biodiversity offsets is to achieve no net loss and preferably a net gain of biodiversity on the ground with respect to species composition, habitat structure, ecosystem function and people’s use and cultural values associated with biodiversity".
To be an offset, these conservation outcomes should be quantifiable, since the purpose of a biodiversity offset is to demonstrate a balance between a project’s impacts on biodiversity and the benefits achieved through the offset. This involves measuring both the losses to biodiversity caused by the project and the conservation gains achieved by the offset. BBOP has produced an extensive glossary of terms defining many key terms related to biodiversity offsets.
There is no single best way to design and implement biodiversity offsets. The philosophy of BBOP members has always been to take a principles-based and flexible approach. However, BBOP has defined a general eight step framework for a typical prospective offset design process that can help developers satisfy the Principles. In addition, offset designers can be guided by the Standard on Biodiversity Offsets, which will help them plan and implement an offset that meets best practice. More detailed material can be found in our handbooks on offset design, implementation and other associated material here.