Archive for the ‘Offsets’ Category

Biodiversity offsets and more in the UK’s white paper on the value of nature

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

The UK government’s white paper on the “value of nature” has been published (pdf here).

Biodiversity offsets are mentioned as a good idea to be tested on a voluntary basis by local governments and developers. For the time being, there is thus no expansion of the mitigation hierarchy (of avoiding, reducing and offsetting impacts) beyond that required under the EU “birds” and “habitats” directives.

We will establish a new, voluntary approach to biodiversity offsets and test our approach in pilot areas

As well as testing offsets, the white paper also mentions the designation of nature improvement areas to be restored. This must be set against the goals mentioned in the recent European biodiversity strategy (also discussed here). The government also plans to set up an (ecological network.

The ecosystem valuation debate

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

The Lancaster Environment Centre recently organized an on-line debate on ecosystem valuation. You can check out a summary of the debate on this page. Participants plan to produce a policy guidance document for future UK policy concerning market based instruments for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services.

The same debate on ecosystem valuation will take place tomorrow in Paris (France), under the auspices of the IDDRI, a think-tank. In preparation to the symposium, Emma Broughton and Romain Pirard wrote a short piece on market-based instruments for biodiversity (pdf).

Their article proposes a typology of instruments which distinguishes:

  • Regulations changing relative prices
  • Coasean type agreements
  • Reverse auctions
  • Tradable permits
  • Specific markets for environmental products
  • Premium capture on existing markets
  • The authors discuss the pros and cons of each one of these instruments.

    Learn more in the paper and participate in the on-going debate!

    Species banking goes global!

    Monday, March 21st, 2011

    Dont’ worry! I don’t mean that you can now trade species like you would apples and oranges.

    As well as an up-and-coming approach (maybe) to limiting our impacts on wild plants and animals, Species Banking is also a dedicated website managed by Forest Trends that aims to be the entry point for all those interested in the issue or that actually need to sell or buy species credits.

    This month, the website extended its focus beyond US Conservation Banking. It went global! You can now find a list of biodiversity offset programs across the globe. Although the list is still incomplete, it contains a wealth of information.

    Enjoy it!

    Has Australian biobanking lost all credibility?

    Friday, February 18th, 2011

    Biobanking was launched in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) in 2009* in order to streamline the requirement for developers to avoid, reduce and offset their impacts on biodiversity.

    Biobanking is inspired by similar policy instruments in the USA and elsewhere whereby developers can purchase “credits” sold by “banks” who have created “biodiversity gains” in advance of future impacts. As such, banking schemes solve some of the difficulties of offsetting impacts : taking into account delays between impact losses and offset gains and the uncertainties of actually obtaining these gains.

    On the downside, conservationists often argue that such “banks” give the false impression that all impacts can be offset, thereby giving an incentive to downplay or ignore the requirement to first avoid and reduce impacts.

    A major development operation in the Hunter valley of NSW resorted to biobanking to offset its impacts but it was revealed that errors where made in sizing the required offset actions. This is a serious blow to the credibility of biobanking as an instrument for mitigating development impacts on biodiversity. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald tells us that:

    The 644.4 hectares of clearing requires 37,010 credits, while the 887.0 hectares of biobank site generates 9607 credits. This results in a shortfall of 27,403 credits. The results show that between 2614.5 to 4107 hectares of additional offset is required to satisfy the offset required by the biobanking assessment.

    It will be interesting to see how this particular mishap will play out on the development of biobanking in NSW but also in its spread to other Australian states.

    * The scheme was set up through the Threatened Species Conservation Amendment (Biodiversity Banking) Act of 2006.

    Applying the mitigation hierarchy: where is the avoidance?

    Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

    In her 1996 paper, Barbara Bedford mentioned that wetland mitigation policies are in effect landscape-level policies for managing and distributing wetlands. In a paper* soon to be published in the journal Wetlands Ecology and Management, Shari Clare of the University of Alberta (Canada) and her co-authors make this point further by investigating if and how the mitigation sequence of avoiding, reducing and finally offsetting or compensating is applied in the province of Alberta.

    Through interviews with regulators, developers and actors of the wetland mitigation hierarchy they show that offsetting is systematically used to allow developers to get approval for their project. They argue that the requirement to avoid impacts is not well enforced in part because of:

  • the lack of guidelines on how to assess avoidance measures and alternatives while, in contrast, there are established guidelines for designing and sizing offsets)
  • the lack of a province-wide vision of where development could occur and where avoidance should be sought (i.e. land-use planning does not play its role)
  • the lack of recognized economic value of wetlands (i.e. their “use-value” is not taken into consideration in assessing equivalence)
  • the belief that wetland functions are easy to (re)create or restore (i.e. “techno-arrogance”).
  • To address these issues, the authors suggest watershed-based planning where wetlands are placed within a broader landscape context and alternative land-uses prioritized. This is consistent with the conclusions of Bedford (1996) who argued that project-centred regulation (i.e. command-and-control) is insufficient to reach the goal of no-net-loss of wetland functions. Shari Clare and her co-authors mention systematic conservation planning as one methodology for developing such watershed-level approaches. More generally, having a strategic vision for managing wetland resources at the provincial (or watershed level) is necessary for regulators to be proactive in the permitting process (rather than being reactive to developer requirements) and to effectively take into account cumulative effects (or many small impacts and wetland losses).

    The authors also add that wetland functions need to be better “valued” and suggest that social and economic values be explicitly incorporated into the assessment process. They suggest using the concept of ecosystem services to this end but not necessarily through a monetary valuation exercise. This raises complex assessment and accounting issues but is probably an effective avenue for both the public and developers to acknowledge the purpose of wetland mitigation policies and the option of avoiding impacts.

    Beyond the question of avoidance measures, the paper also gives some interesting (frightening?) insight into the design and sizing of offsets:

    In Alberta, all of the government regulators we interviewed indicated that the most common metric used for comparability or equivalency between impacted and compensatory wetlands is area, with very little consideration given to wetland functions or services.

    Having shown that the mitigation policy suffers from a lack of post-approval monitoring of offsets, the authors also argue for a stronger involvement of civil society in monitoring and control of offset actions: if public authorities are unable to follow-up on their decisions, then the easy solution is to get volunteers to do the work but perhaps that is too easy?

    To conclude, the paper is a very interesting contribution to the argument that, beyond developing adequate methodologies for assessing the equivalence between losses and gains in the context of offsets, the proper implementation of the mitigation hierarchy requires public authorities to be proactive about the goals in terms of wetlands, biodiversity, ecosystems etc. Being proactive means that a strategy must be formulated to managing these “resources” beyond each individual project.

    * Reference of the paper : Clare, S., Krogman, N., Foote, L; & Lemphers, N. (2011): Where is the avoidance in the implementation of wetland law and policy? Wetlands Ecology and Management, in press.

    Biodiversity: the new carbon?

    Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

    The Guardian, a leading UK newspaper, recently published an interesting analysis of biodiversity as the new “carbon”. After discussing how biodiversity has emerged as a new issue for companies to incorporate in their business strategies, the article details the main motivations for this.

    The first motivation mentioned is reputational risk but the most interesting is the one concerning a company’s liability in case of impacts or damages on biodiversity. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (BP) is used as an example. This underlies two things:

  • That the “business case” for incorporating biodiversity in business decisions and strategies is strongly dependant on an appropriate institutional context where companies are liable for impacts on biodiversity. The requirement to avoid, reduce and offset impacts is one such context.
  • That anticipating possible impacts and the potential financial losses that could result from such impacts requires the development of impact assessment procedures and methods that can be parametrized in advance.
  • The USA have developed assessment methods to be applied in the context of Natural Resource Damage Assessment procedures (NRDA), such as Habitat Equivalency Analysis and Resource Equivalency Analysis. In Europe, the 2004 Environmental Liability Directive will certainly make governments and environmental authorities push for the development of such methods.

    Towards no net loss, and beyond (in the UK)

    Friday, December 31st, 2010

    I had mentioned in a previous post how the UK was discussing policies for biodiversity offsets and habitat banking.

    Conclusions from the Natural Capital Initiative‘s third workshop, which took place in early December 2010, are not yet on-line but they are discussed by Daniel Kandy of the ecosystem market place on their website.

    He argues that the workshop gave little hope for a national policy framework or strong government regulations on offsetting. A framework for voluntary offsets by developers is a more likely outcome of the current discussions, in particular under the new coalition government:

    Given the coalition government’s commitment to reducing regulation and meting out more power to local governments, a biodiversity offset program will more than likely be voluntary in nature and be regulated at the local level. After years of a Labour government opting for top-down regulatory approaches, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has decided to move towards a less centralized form of government oversight.

    The government will state its position in the spring of 2011, in a white paper called the “Natural Environment Policy Paper”. Meanwhile, discussions continue. Stay tuned for the publication of the workshop’s conclusions by the Natural Capital Initiative themselves…

    The Tolstoy effect

    Sunday, December 12th, 2010

    In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy reminds us that “happy families are all alike” while “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.

    Emilie Stander and Joan Ehrenfeld concluded that the same was true for wetlands. They studied the functioning of wetlands used as (supposedly “pristine”) reference wetlands for wetland mitigation in New Jersey (USA) and found that in this heavily urbanized setting, even reference wetlands were “unhappy”… (pdf here)

    This raises issues for using typologies of wetlands in the assessment of wetland states (as in the context of wetland mitigation in the USA).

    Identifying reference wetlands on the basis of standard structural indicators is misleading when wetlands are in heavily modified landscapes and watersheds. They suggest that instead, multi-year data on functioning should be used to create appropriate typologies of wetland functioning.

    A further step would be to use “theoretical” references for assessing wetland state but this would most likely make in-the-field assessment more difficult.

    Setting restoration targets : how specific should they be?

    Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

    In a recent paper published in the journal Wetlands, Diane De Steven and her colleagues present a 5 year restoration experiment where they tried to pilot restored coastal depressional wetlands in South Carolina to either herbaceous wetlands or wet forests. They failed!

    Well, they didn’t fail overall. In fact, they generate a whole suite of restored wetlands that are well within the range of preserved wetlands in the region in terms of hydrology and plant communities. What they failed to do was to correctly predict which one of the 16 wetlands they restored would (likely) evolve into either a herbaceous wetland or a wet forest. This is because they could not predict the restored hydrology of each wetland (restored by plugging drains) which is the main determinant of tree establishment, ahead of planting tree seedlings into the wetlands targeted to become wet forests.

    Diane De Steven and her colleagues draw several conclusions from this outcome :

  • There are high stakes in evaluating ecological restoration success in wetlands because of the requirements for mitigating wetland losses
  • Restoration success is rarely a simple yes / no outcome
  • Specifying, in advance, a specific plant community as a target for restoration ignores the variability of ecological (and community) dynamics and under-appreciates the multiple possible states of natural wetlands
  • More flexible restoration targets, based on a spectrum of reference communities (“natural” or otherwise) is more fitting to an adaptative management approach to restoration.
  • The spectrum could be defined in terms of wetland functioning, plant communities or even functional groups or functional traits (thereby recognizing that different plant assemblages can provide similar functions).
  • These are interesting ideas to keep in mind when discussing restoration (of course!) but also in designing assessment methods for wetland mitigation : with which metrics and against which targets should losses and gains in wetland condition be assessed?

    Biodiversity offsets as landscape management policies

    Saturday, November 27th, 2010

    As Barbara Bedford already stated, in her 1996 paper on wetland mitigation in the USA, that as the number of exchanges of one ecosystem for another increases, offsets change from a regulatory action aimed at achieving no-net-loss to a landscape management policy.

    This implies strategic thinking that goes beyond project per project assessments of like-for-like replacement of lost habitats and functions. Cumulative effects must be taken into account in allowing and offsetting impacts and both zoning (= planning) and nature conservation laws must therefore accommodate future projects and future offsets.

    This is made easier by the fact that the growing focus on nature conservation outside protected areas has pushed nature conservation objectives deeper into zoning laws (e.g. Natura 2000 in Europe).

    Habitat banking policies are particularly adapted to this requirement, in that they can be established before impacts as part of zoning plans. In Europe, the German Eingriffsregelung policy is a good example of this where municipalities must plan areas for offsetting future urban development included in their zoning and urban planning.

    In France, the recent launch of zoning requirements concerning ecological connectivities (known as Trames Verte et Bleue) has raised the question of using offset actions to enhance or restore ecological connectivities. This can be interpreted either as:

  • using offset requirements to compensate for the State’s incapacity to meet its legal obligations regarding nature conservation
  • a useful coordination of publicly and privately funded actions in favour of biodiversity
  • You might find the first interpretation scandalous or be proud of the second but what would the wildlife say?