Posts Tagged ‘Metrics’

Biodiversity offsets: the most promising nature-based opportunity for UK businesses?!

Monday, July 9th, 2012

DEFRA (the UK government department responsible for policy and regulations on the environment, food and rural affairs) recently published a report on opportunities for UK business that value and/or protect nature’s services. What does it say?

Well, the authors identified 12 promising opportunities for UK business to help protect and value nature. First among them is the development of biodiversity offsets and habitat banking. The report suggest they move from their current voluntary status to a mandatory regime.

Rank 1=: BIODIVERSITY OFFSETS, INCLUDING THROUGH CONSERVATION BANKING – an opportunity to stimulate creation of new companies and new business models for existing companies to provide biodiversity offsets in the UK, by moving from the current voluntary approach to a (soft regulation) mandatory regime.

The report mentions “soft regulation”, and describes (section 2.1, 1 of the final report) this as:

regulation or unambiguous policy interpretation by government that clarifies that biodiversity offsets are necessary in defined circumstances, and that establishes a framework for implementation to a particular standard, including through conservation banks.

The report also mentions the need to :

support for a brokering system which can provide national, regional and local choice against desired spatial delivery, and can provide transparency and ease of purchase of credits and management of contracts with those providing offset sites, all of which would reduce risk

To learn more about the business side of the report’s conclusions, dive in and read Attachment 1.

Grasslands: are they all equivalent?

Although the report’s overall outlook is positive, it doesn’t mean creating a market for biodiversity offsets will be straightforward. There are still many technical and institutional difficulties to overcome

  • how will the avoidance and reduction steps of the mitigation hierarchy be enforced?
  • how are “credits” constructed?
  • how will their prices be set?
  • how are liabilities defined?
  • who is in charge of controls and sanctions?
  • (…)
  • These questions are not new, but they deserve some detailed thinking, and transparent debates.

    The metrics debate: habitat for middle-aged great blue herons who don’t like shrimp?

    Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

    Whenever discussions on biodiversity offsets get technical, they either focus on legal and cost issues (if you’re paying) or on their underlying ecological reality (if you’re the regulator). Concerning the latter, the question is how you actually assess equivalence between what is lost on the one hand, and what is generated by the offset on the other? So it’s all about what and how you measure to assess those gains and losses – hence the metrics debate.

    In his blog, Morgan Robertson exposes this issue as a “paradox”.

    I’ve been thinking about this for a long time — in fact it seems like everything I’ve ever written boils down to “defining environmental commodities is HARD because ecology is complex and commodities need to be abstract”.

    The paradox is that the metrics must strike a difficult balance between their ecological precision and their ability to foster exchanges on a market for offsets.

    Too much precision (i.e. the habitat for middle-aged great blue herons who don’t like shrimp of Robertson fame since 2004) might better reflect the complexities, or rather the ecological uniqueness, of each location (and time), being assessed. It would however make any market completely useless… At the other extreme, a metric that hardly encompasses these complexities (try wetland area) would make the market highly fungible.

    This paradox should be on the mind of anyone developing metrics or methods for assessing ecological equivalence or credit-debit systems, or using them to actually design an offset scheme. The same applies to any type of ecosystem service market off course (PES or otherwise).

    It is interesting to note that in their pilot schemes for testing habitat banking, France and the United Kingdom have made very different choices in terms of metrics. More on this later…