Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Casting a Critical Eye over Biodiversity Offsets

By Georgia Garrard, Sarah Bekessy and Brendan Wintle

Biodiversity offset policies may result in perverse incentives that lock in biodiversity loss.

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

Biodiversity-offsetting policies are in place across Australia, administered by both state and federal authorities, to ensure that there are no net losses of native vegetation. Development in one part of the landscape is “offset’ by some action in another part of the landscape.

Readers might be alarmed, then, to learn that in 2014 almost 300,000 hectares of native vegetation was cleared in Queensland. That’s an area bigger than the Australian Capital Territory, and more than 3.5 times as much as was cleared in 2010.

What’s going on? Why is the rate of native vegetation clearing increasing when we have policies designed to stop it?

An increasing body of evidence suggests that biodiversity offset policies will struggle to achieve goals of no net loss, let alone net gain. In fact, biodiversity offset policies may result in a number of perverse incentives that lock in biodiversity loss.

Changes in land tenure or protection of existing assets (such as unprotected remnant vegetation) are the most common forms of offsets. By definition, these result in net loss or depletion of biodiversity. Any lag that occurs between habitat loss and the establishment of new habitat or recovery means that a net loss is guaranteed in the medium term.

Indeed, there are very few conditions under which offset policies can deliver no net loss. Restoration of...

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