Posts Tagged ‘Offsets’

Sharing nature’s bounty or managing the services provided by natural capital?

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

In an article in the Guardian, a UK newspaper, George Monbiot, takes a hit on ecosystem services and natural capital.

He finds the current shift in vocabulary very worrying:

  • Nature has become natural capital
  • Natural processes have become ecosystem services, as they exist only to serve us.
  • Ecosystems (hills, forests, river catchments, etc.) are now green infrastructure
  • Biodiversity and habitats are now asset classes within an ecosystem market
  • He basically argues that all the hype around these new terms and concepts carries with it the privatization of nature. He uses private ownership of land, exemplified by the enclosure of the commons, as an illustration of that privatization process.

    Enclosure Act for Shifnal, 1793

    Land ownership (…) has involved the gradual accumulation of exclusive rights, which were seized from commoners. Payments for ecosystem services extend this encroachment by appointing the landlord as the owner and instigator of the wildlife, the water flow, the carbon cycle, the natural processes that were previously deemed to belong to everyone and no one.

    His message is clearly stated, but it is not new. In fact, this has been a constant worry of all those involved in the growing incorporation of biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services into decisions affecting our environment. This includes both public bodies such as local governments involved in land planning, and private entities such as NGOs looking for extra funding or businesses trying to manage their dependency or impacts on natural resources and ecological processes.

    His critique focuses on the idea that only by giving a monetary value to the ecosystem services provided by natural capital can we internalize them into our decisions. This is one way forward, but because it assumes that natural capital is thus interchangeable with human or financial capital, it carries the risks outlined by the article. Another approach is to identify which bits of our natural capital are not exchangeable (fungible), and adopt a no net loss approach to their management.

    Managing our natural capital: No Net Loss vs. Monetization

    No net loss of natural capital has been one of the guiding principles of environmental legislation and is generally translated into regulations – such as the European Habitats Directive – than impose a sequence of steps aimed at avoiding, reducing, and offsetting impacts on natural capital.

    Concerning offsets, George Monbiot clearly does not trust environmental authorities to give priority to avoiding over reduction and offsetting of impacts.

    The government warns that these offsets should be used only to compensate for “genuinely unavoidable damage” and “must not become a licence to destroy”. But once the principle is established and the market is functioning, for how long do you reckon that line will hold? Nature, under this system, will become as fungible as everything else.

    He is probably right. Would impacts have been avoided if offsets had not been possible through this pilot scheme? Probably. Is that a good enough reason to give in? Maybe.

    George Monbiot takes the creation of the UK’s Natural Capital Commitee as a symbol of the worrying trend towards a gradual monetization, and thus privatization, of nature and natural processes. Let’s hope we can get a bit of no net loss principles in there…

    Ecosystem services and offsets in the EU biodiversity strategy

    Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

    Earlier this month, the European Commission published the European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. It has received considerable comment in the press and on-line, in particular regarding the place taken by ecosystem services and the value of nature. BusinessGreen, EurActiv, the Ecosystem Marketplace and others have rejoiced in finding that the strategy explicitly mentions the incorporation of biodiversity and ecosystem services into decision-making through valuation, monitoring and reporting. While this is true, it must be made clear that most of the strategy actually focuses on setting biodiversity targets and developing (incl. funding) the corresponding monitoring and reporting schemes. Valuation issues are only mentioned in the strategy’s introductory section.

    The document only makes a passing mention of offsets and PES schemes as mechanisms for involving the private sector in funding biodiversity conservation. As such, it is a bit of a stretch to say that the strategy endorses “species banking” (as did the Ecosystem Marketplace). In fact, it is strange that the key role of offsets in the Habitats directive (article 6.4) did not get mentioned in this context. The strategy does not mention the 2004 environmental liability directive which also includes offsets.

    Targets set by the strategy include (1) the full implementation of the Birds (1979) and Habitats (1992) directives (i.e. improving the conservation status of twice the number of habitat types as are currently and 50% more for species), (2) maintaining and enhancing ecosystem services through the development of “green infrastructure” and the restoration of >15% of currently degraded ecosystems (no definition provided), (3) developing a adequate policy response to invasive species and (4) “stepping-up” the EU’s contribution averting global biodiversity loss (whatever that means apart from forking out aid…).

    Interesting chapters in the document discuss interactions with existing policies and in particular the Common Agricultural Policy which will have to contribute to the first two targets : improving the conservation status of habitats and species and restoring degraded ecosystems. The forthcoming CAP will have considerable impact on biodiversity and Europe and a lot is certainly at play there. The document states that discussions are in progress for a framework directive aimed at preserving soil resources in the EU. That’s a lot of news to come…

    Biodiversity in Europe – The message from Liège

    Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

    On 22-24 September, representatives from government, NGOs and business met in Liège (Belgium) for the 5th Intergovernmental Conference on “Biodiversity in Europe”.

    The conference produced a “Message from Liège”, in which European conservation leaders list a range of priorities and recommendations to:

  • Conserve ecosystem services
  • Address the biodiversity impacts of climate change
  • Integrate biodiversity into other sectors of society
  • A new target was suggested to “halt any further loss of species and habitats” and, by 2025, “restore degraded areas with an emphasis on links between biodiversity, ecosystem services, climate change and human well-being”.

    Opening ceremony of the 5th Intergovernmental Conference on “Biodiversity in Europe” (from the official website)

    Opening ceremony of the 5th Intergovernmental Conference on “Biodiversity in Europe” (from the official website)

    The official conference website provides a wealth of links and information in the form of background reports and documents provided to participants. In fact, the selection on offer would warrant a proper analysis in itself. Meanwhile, take your pick!

    TEEB at centre stage

    Many reports were based on the work of the TEEB project. TEEB stands for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. It aims to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity and the costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, using similar approach as in the Stern report for climate change.

    The TEEB interim report, published in May 2008, was summarized for workshop participants. It’s policy recommendations include expanding the polluter-pay principle to biodiversity loss and ecosystem service degradation (e.g. through the on-site or off-site compensation or offsetting of unavoidable impacts) and to create new markets for biodiversity and ecosystem services (e.g conservation or habitat banks) (see Chapter 4).

    Both instruments require a common currency for offsetting biodiversity and ecosystem services. This requires operational as well as ecologically valid and socially acceptable methods for assessing ecological equivalence. Developing these methods is currently one of the main bottlenecks to the spread of biodiversity offsets.