Towards Unpacking the Theory Behind, and a Pragmatic Approach to Biodiversity Offsets

  • Andrew BlackmoreEmail author


The use of biodiversity offsets to compensate for residual impacts on biodiversity resulting from a development or land-use change, is becoming more prevalent. While much has been published on this topic, there has been little published on the theoretical foundation on which biodiversity offsets are based. This paper seeks to unpack the theoretical and practical tenets of biodiversity offsets in relation to the public trust doctrine, responsibilities of the developer and the State, and significant unmitigable impacts on biodiversity. It was reasoned that the responsibility of the developer and the life of a biodiversity offset are finite, and that the concept of ‘in perpetuity’ may not exist practically and in law. It was further discovered that a sound understanding of the public trust doctrine is critical for consistent offset-based decision-making, particularly in those circumstances where an impasse between the potential significant loss to biodiversity and an indispensable need for a development or land-use change arises.


Biodiversity offsets Irreplaceable biodiversity Environmental compensation Policy Protected areas Public trust doctrine 



The author wishes to thank Coral Birrs, Johan Kruger, Pamela Kershaw, Magda Goosen and Simon Bundy for their valuable insights and critical reviews of an earlier draft of this paper. The supportive environment of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the University of KwaZulu-Natal is acknowledged.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The ideas, arguments and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife or the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal WildlifePietermaritzburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.School of Law, University of KwaZulu-NatalKwaZulu-NatalSouth Africa

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