In 2004, Forest Trends established BBOP to bring together a large and diverse group of organisations to challenge the historical assumption that the social and economic benefits of development projects must inevitably result in a net loss of biodiversity.

Companies, governments, financial institutions, and civil society organisations faced challenges in looking for practical ways to reconcile sustainable development targets with biodiversity conservation, to safeguard investments against social and environmental risks, to ensure projects were developed with prior and informed consent, and to improve the manner in which losses and gains of biodiversity and ecosystem services were measured and addressed, based on sound science.

The terminology for key concepts such as ‘mitigation’, ‘compensation’ and ‘offsets’ varied from country to country and group to group, leading to confusion and misunderstanding during discussions; guidelines, methodologies and standards were lacking so it wasn’t clear how to measure losses and gains of biodiversity, how to consider the social and cultural values of communities and how to set up the legal, financial and administrative arrangements to secure mitigation measures over the long term; proposals for improved approaches hadn’t been tested and demonstrated at pilot sites; and government policies and financial investment conditions did not necessarily encourage best practice.

Without a recognized standard, project developers, lenders and the conservation community had no way of judging the quality of an offset project. Developers were exposed to potential criticism that the mitigation efforts they made were inappropriate, wrong in kind, scale and location and did not accord with good practice.

Above all, there was no forum to bring together the different perspectives of companies, investors, governments and civil society to reach consensus views on these topics, and to do so at an international level outside the very specific legislation of a handful of countries.

With this in mind, 40 representatives from companies, governments, non-governmental organisations and financial institutions joined BBOP; a group that grew to over 80 members at the close of Programme and more than 130 members over the life of the Programme. The Secretariat was established by Forest Trends, initially also with Conservation International and later with Wildlife Conservation Society.