Policy Development for Biodiversity Offsets: A Review of Offset Frameworks


Biodiversity offsets seek to compensate for residual environmental impacts of planned developments after appropriate steps have been taken to avoid, minimize or restore impacts on site. Offsets are emerging as an increasingly employed mechanism for achieving net environmental benefits, with offset policies being advanced in a wide range of countries (i.e., United States, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, and South Africa). To support policy development for biodiversity offsets, we review a set of major offset policy frameworks—US wetlands mitigation, US conservation banking, EU Natura 2000, Australian offset policies in New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia, and Brazilian industrial and forest offsets. We compare how the frameworks define offset policy goals, approach the mitigation process, and address six key issues for implementing offsets: (1) equivalence of project impacts with offset gains; (2) location of the offset relative to the impact site; (3) “additionality” (a new contribution to conservation) and acceptable types of offsets; (4) timing of project impacts versus offset benefits; (5) offset duration and compliance; and (6) “currency” and mitigation replacement ratios. We find substantial policy commonalities that may serve as a sound basis for future development of biodiversity offsets policy. We also identify issues requiring further policy guidance, including how best to: (1) ensure conformance with the mitigation hierarchy; (2) identify the most environmentally preferable offsets within a landscape context; and (3) determine appropriate mitigation replacement ratios.

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We thank the Class of ‘55 Social Venture Fund, De Norske Veritas, and The Nature Conservancy for support in funding this study. We also thank Ted Gullison, Art Blundell, Tormod Burkey and Jared Hardner for their thoughtful comments.

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Correspondence to Bruce A. McKenney.

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McKenney, B.A., Kiesecker, J.M. Policy Development for Biodiversity Offsets: A Review of Offset Frameworks. Environmental Management 45, 165–176 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-009-9396-3

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  • Biodiversity offsets
  • Mitigation hierarchy
  • Environmental compensation
  • Policy
  • Conservation planning
  • Mitigation replacement ratio