Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Reality of Biodiversity Offsets

By Martine Maron and Richard Hobbs

Many of the expectations for biodiversity offsetting remain unsupported by evidence.

Martine Maron and Richard Hobbs are both researchers with the Environmental Decisions Group. Martine is based at the University of Queensland, and Richard is at the University of Western Australia.

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

Biodiversity offsetting is one of the fastest-growing areas in conservation policy, with more than 64 programs currently underway around the world. The idea is that losses of bio­diversity at an impact site are compensated by the generation of ecologically equivalent gains elsewhere. The result, in theory, is that there is “no net loss” of biodiversity.

Depending on who you talk to, biodiversity offsets represent either a great conservation opportunity or an attempt to greenwash “business as usual” for developers.

Australia is among the most advanced countries in terms of its biodiversity offset policy regime, with most states and territories having at least one offset policy. A federal scheme is also close to being finalised. However, although this approach is being increasingly applied, when we reviewed the literature on the effectiveness of restoration for biodiversity offsets we found there is little evidence that it works.

Most biodiversity offset activity falls into two categories. The first, called “averted loss” offsetting, involves the protection and maintenance of sites that would otherwise be under threat of clearing or degradation. By definition, this approach doesn’t avoid overall declines in biodiversity.

The second, which we refer to as “restoration” offsetting, involves improving the quality or extent of habitat or vegetation...

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