You can’t offset what you can’t measure, which is why the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP) is asking for feedback on how to calculate both the amount and type of biodiversity that a given development will destroy and the degree to which biodiversity offsets will rectify the loss. The Ecosystem Marketplace tells you how to express your views.
16 August 2008 | More and more people are clear on the basic concept of environmental offsets: namely, that you can best reduce global levels of some pollutants by concentrating first on the easiest to eliminate, and then tackling the more difficult-to-reduce polluters.
It works for carbon dioxide emissions, because a ton of CO2 emitted in China does the same damage to the atmosphere as does a ton of emissions in the United States – but what about biodiversity offsets?
If you wipe out a species of bird in Montana, can you offset it by saving pandas in Tibet?
Of course not! After all, a biodiversity offset should ensure that neither biodiversity nor ecosystem functions are systematically degraded or lost from a given landscape – generally meaning no net loss of biodiversity in that landscape and, when possible, a net gain.
But what if you’re building a pipeline through territory inhabited by, say, a rare breed of camel – such as China’s endangered wild Bactrian? Can you offset that loss of habitat by restoring nearby habitat for related breeds of the same species? And how do you know that a given band of animals is really something unique?
These questions were faced by developers of a pipeline called the Petro China West-to-East Gas Transmission Project, and when genetic tests eventually determined that the camels were “evolutionarily distinct” from their brethren, the pipeline was re-routed – for a price.
Though not really an offset, the action illustrates the quandaries faced across the world as human development comes to terms with the inherent value of biodiversity and the cost of preserving it.
BBOP and the Measurement Question
The Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP) is a global partnership of 40 organizations launched in 2004 by Forest Trends (publisher of the Ecosystem Marketplace) to determine when biodiversity offsets are appropriate and when they are not, and to come up with detailed protocols ensuring they are done right when implemented.
A cornerstone of the project is the development of the BBOP Learning Network and the publication of the BBOP Biodiversity Offset Design Handbook, which will ultimately offer a step-by-step guide for developing biodiversity offset projects.
In order to make sure the handbook benefits from a diverse range of views and expertise, BBOP has published a comprehensive series of consultation papers available to anyone who registers for the consultation process.
The first paper, “Thresholds for Biodiversity Offsets”, dealt with the fundamental question of how to decide whether or not impacts can be offset and how far to pursue each step of the mitigation hierarchy. Consultation closed on August 8.
The Second paper, Loss/Gain Quantification Methodologies, was posted last month, and the consultation period ends this coming Friday: August 22, 2008 – the same day that condultation closes on the Draft Stakeholder Participation and Biodiversity Offsets Issues paper.
September 1: Cost-Benefit Deadline
Two other deadlines are also rapidly approaching, the first on September 1:
Draft Cost Benefit Handbook: This draft Handbook offers draft guidance on how to use economic tools of valuation and cost-benefit analysis to compensate indigenous peoples, local communities and other local stakeholders for any residual impacts of the project, and the offset, on their biodiversity-based livelihoods and amenity.
September 12: Super Friday
Then comes Friday, September 12, 2008 – the closing date for comments on the four remaining papers:
Multipliers: This paper offers draft guidance on the application of multipliers, time discounting and certain other methods to manage the risks inherent in biodiversity offset design and implementation.
Site Selection and Landscape Level Planning: This paper offers draft guidance on alternative methods to select sites for biodiversity offsets and how to plan a biodiversity offset to contribute to planning at the landscape scale.
Impact Assessment and Biodiversity Offsets: This paper offers information and draft guidance on the relationship between impact assessment and the design and implementation of biodiversity offsets.
Draft Offset Implementation Handbook: This draft Handbook offers information and draft guidance on how to define the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders and legal, institutional and financial aspects of implementing a biodiversity offset, how an offset management plan can be developed, and how the offset can be monitored and evaluated.
For questions and comments, please contact: Steve Zwick, Managing Editor, SZwick@nullecosystemmarketplace.com