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Are Biodiversity Offsets Good for Biodiversity?

By Phil Gibbons

Policy-makers love biodiversity offsets while ecologists are wary of them. What's important is their impact relative to the status quo.

Dr Phil Gibbons is a Research Fellow at the Applied Environmental Decision Analysis centre at the Australian National University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Love them or hate them, biodiversity offsets have become a popular policy instrument in Australia in recent years. They were included as part of reforms to land clearing legislation in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, and the recent review of the Commonwealth’s biodiversity legislation includes a recommendation to adopt mitigation banking (a form of biodiversity offsets).

Biodiversity offsets are actions that compensate for adverse impacts to biodiversity arising from development. For example, if you knock down trees to build houses, then you do something elsewhere to offset the impact from the loss of the trees. One can immediately see the attraction for policy-makers. However, is biodiversity better off with the introduction of offsets?

According to many Australian ecologists, the answer is a resounding no. Criticisms of biodiversity offsets focus on the inability of ecological restoration actions on one site to be sufficient, equivalent or timely enough to compensate for losses from development at another site.

However, what the critics don’t assess is whether the introduction of biodiversity offsets results in a net gain in biodiversity relative to the status quo. I’ll demonstrate this by using the introduction of biodiversity offsets in NSW as a case study.

The assessment methodology introduced with the NSW Native Vegetation...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.