Policy update: Spotlight on biodiversity offsetting

11th November 2013

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IEMA's Nick Blyth discusses a recent IEMA workshop debating Defra's proposals for a biodiversity offsetting scheme in England

Environment professionals want the government to adopt a transparent and robust approach to biodiversity offsetting which is firmly within the context of the mitigation hierarchy and contains suitable safeguards.

These are some of the key outcomes from two workshops held in London and Sheffield for IEMA members to review the green paper on biodiversity offsetting in England, which Defra put out to consultation on 5 September.

The workshops were followed by a joint webinar with Defra and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, which examined the proposals from the environment department in more detail, as well emerging concerns among practitioners.

A poll of the participants indicated that most believed biodiversity offsetting should be a mandatory requirement. It also revealed that few environment professionals believe that Defra’s current proposals for an offsetting scheme provided sufficient safeguards.

It is increasingly acknowledged among practitioners and project developers that biodiversity offsetting could make a contribution to addressing the long-standing decline and fragmentation of ecological networks.

The environment department said its proposals aimed to maintain ecosystems, air, water and soils, as well as ensure that “expensive and inefficient” planning processes did not unnecessarily delay projects required for economic growth.

Biodiversity offsetting is not straightforward, however, and presents a challenge in terms of developing a credible scheme that gives confidence to all parties. Demonstrating the value or “equivalence” of traded units, for example, is far more challenging than carbon offsetting, a practice that also suffered a significant lack of confidence in its formative period.

IEMA members believe that a transparent and robust approach will be required in offsetting biodiversity impacts and that lessons should be learned from professionals who were directly engaged in the early period of commissioning carbon offsets for carbon neutrality. Many practitioners are also keen for the government to explore the scope of using biodiversity offsetting and offset metrics in companies’ wider sustainability initiatives

The participating practitioners work across a range of development and impact assessment roles, including for developers, construction firms, consultants and advisers, as well as regulatory, planning and consent-related jobs.

Their concerns build on earlier IEMA advice on biodiversity offsetting, and have contributed to the Institute’s formal response to Defra’s consultation – which can be downloaded from the policy hub at iema.net.

The workshops and webinar also helped to inform IEMA’s submission to the inquiry into biodiversity offsetting by the House of Commons environmental audit committee.


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