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IUCN developed a global policy on biodiversity offsets, which was adopted by IUCN Members at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September 2016.


IUCN states that, "Under the specific conditions outlined in this policy, it is IUCN’s position that biodiversity offsets can contribute to positive conservation outcomes. However, biodiversity offsets are only appropriate for projects which have rigorously applied the mitigation hierarchy (avoid, minimise, restore/rehabilitate and offset and when a full set of alternatives to the project have been considered."

The diagram below illustrates the mitigation hierarchy.


IUCN also launched a biodiversity offset policy database in 2017 in collaboration with The Biodiversity Consultancy (TBC). This Global Inventory on Biodiversity Offset Policies (GIBOP) contains 198 countries’ publicly available national environmental laws and legislation with regard to offsets provisions, as well as country summaries and links to relevant documents.




IUCN Policy states that, "Only after applying the earlier steps in the mitigation hierarchy should biodiversity offsets be employed to address the residual impact in order to achieve at least No Net Loss and preferably a Net Gain at the project level. The terms No Net Loss or Net Gain refer to the outcome achieved compared to a reference scenario. This reference scenario can be what is likely to have occurred in the absence of the project and the offset, or one that provides a better outcome for biodiversity conservation. Societal values should also be accounted for and used to inform the design and implementation of biodiversity offsets."


It is difficult to think of a scenario however, where the death of an individual ape could ever be considered not to be a loss, or when it could be considered a "gain" even if many more apes were protected elsewhere. We appreciate that the internationally accepted terminology of "No Net Loss and "Net Gain" means that projects must measure loss. This increases the likelihood that the offset will occur at scale.  However, for apes, this terminology is unpalatable, and even immoral. We agree that projects that destroy apes habitat or harm apes, should pay by investing in conservation projects for that same species elsewhere. However, we prefer the terminology "damages" instead. "Damages" recognizes that there has been a loss. It recognizes that harm has been done.

One of the challenges with biodiversity offsets is that if each project protects a small area to compensate for "damages," this could result in many small isolated protected areas that would not prevent the decline of a species in the long term. We therefore encourage for "damages" to be aggregated into larger, more resilient landscapes rather than a patchwork of disconnected areas that are often biologically meaningless for the survival of a species in the long term.



© Tatyana Humle

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