Offsetting impacts of development on biodiversity and ecosystem services

Abstract

Offsetting—trading losses in one place for commensurate gains in another—is a tool used to mitigate environmental impacts of development. Biodiversity and carbon are the most widely used targets of offsets; however, other ecosystem services are increasingly traded, introducing new risks to the environment and people. Here, we provide guidance on how to “trade with minimal trade-offs”— i.e. how to offset impacts on biodiversity without negatively affecting ecosystem services and vice versa. We briefly survey the literature on offsetting biodiversity, carbon and other ecosystem services, revealing that each subfield addresses unique issues (often overlooking those raised by others) and rarely assesses potential trade-offs. We discuss key differences between offsets that trade biodiversity and those that trade ecosystem services, conceptualise links between these different targets in an offsetting context and describe three broad approaches to manage potential trade-offs. We conclude by proposing a research agenda to strengthen the outcomes of offsetting policies that are emerging internationally.

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Acknowledgements

This work was undertaken during a workshop on “linking landscape structure to ecosystem services”, supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP; n. 2017/50015-5), University of Queensland (UQ; Sprint 4/2016) and ARC Centre for Excellence in Environmental Decisions (CEED). LJS was supported by an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DE170100684). M.M. is supported by ARC Future Fellowship FT140100516.

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All authors designed the research and wrote the manuscript. CA, JSS and MW conducted the literature survey.

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Correspondence to Laura J. Sonter.

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Sonter, L.J., Gordon, A., Archibald, C. et al. Offsetting impacts of development on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Ambio 49, 892–902 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01245-3

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Keywords

  • Biodiversity
  • Ecosystem services
  • Mitigation hierarchy
  • Offsetting
  • Trade-offs