Making the transition to Biodiversity Net Gain

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ZSL joins over 200 individuals from conservation organisations, governments, companies and financial institutions in a ‘Call to Action’ for greater efforts to secure “Biodiversity Net Gain”, or measurable conservation outcomes designed to compensate for biodiversity impacts, after appropriate prevention and mitigation measures. The call to action comes during Natural Capital Week, where the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) is publishing roadmaps for business and government to make this possible. 

Dirt road cutting through palm plantation with smoking chimney in distance

Humanity is degrading natural resources at an unsustainable rate. This is worrying not just for the species we are driving to extinction, but also for us, given our complete dependence on the functional natural ecosystems that underpin global food production, climate resilient landscapes, and our very survival. The rates of global species and ecosystem declines are severely jeopardising our ability to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide food, water, clothing and housing. Habitat conversion and species loss are also weakening natural defences against extreme weather events which will become more common due to climate change, according to a new global report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). 

Biodiversity loss is a significant threat to the survival of our species. WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report, for which ZSL provides the Living Planet Index – the data underlining the report – shows a 60% decline in vertebrate populations between 1970 and 2014. A major driver of this decline is loss of habitat, driven by large-scale infrastructure projects, such as new roads, dams, mines, and commercial agricultural expansion.  
The mitigation hierarchy for biodiversity loss is a series of steps developers should take to minimise environmental harm. Avoiding negative impacts on species and biodiversity is the foundation of this process, before mitigating any potential impacts, and restoring or offsetting those that are unavoidable. A renewed focus on the first step – avoiding impacts – is required to help limit the environmental degradation caused by large-scale developments in energy, infrastructure, agriculture and other sectors. However, this is no longer enough, and clear steps must be taken to restore and compensate for any unavoidable biodiversity losses. Going further than offsetting and compensation, and achieving a Net Gain in biodiversity, is now critical in order to safeguard global habitats and ecosystems – given that we have long since exceeded at least four of the nine widely acknowledged planetary boundaries

There is an ever-growing number of governments with policies to address biodiversity loss from development, and these are crucial to ensure that sensitive biodiversity and landscapes cannot simply be ‘bartered’. Data from 2001 show that 60 countries had or were discussing laws or policies requiring No Net Loss or even a Net Gain in biodiversity, and in 2018 there are now over 100.  In the private sector, more than 60 major companies have also made public, company-wide commitments or have stated aspirations related to No Net Loss or Net Gain of biodiversity resulting from their business activities.

Close up photo of a lava lizard sitting on rocks
Lava lizard

Although there is growing appreciation of the mitigation hierarchy and offsets to achieve No Net Loss or Net Gain outcomes by governments and major companies, there is still a need to build awareness and disseminate practical guidance. For example a recent survey of 200 environmental experts conducted by the Environment Bank in the UK showed that while over 50% of respondents felt that the offsetting system would help to achieve Net Gain, the majority of respondents still lacked full understanding of the approach.

Recognising this need, the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) – a cross-sector grouping of organisations whose Advisory Committee Group includes ZSL – has been developing tools and guidelines for business, civil-society and governments. BBOP has developed a ‘Community of Practice’ of over 2,300 people from 45 countries over the last 15 years. As an international collaboration involving over 100 government agencies, companies, financial institutions, NGOs and individual experts it has developed and tested best practice on how to plan development (from national policy down to individual projects, such as a new road or mine) to achieve No Net Loss and preferably a Net Gain in biodiversity.

BBOP Call to Action

During its final conference in Paris on 27-29 November 2018, BBOP is releasing its Call to Action for the international community, governments, companies and civil society to make the transition to Biodiversity Net Gain. BBOP sets out a vision and practical steps towards ‘appropriate development in the right place planned to achieve a net gain in biodiversity, and undertaken with integrity to a high standard’. To guide practical action for specific sectors, it details actions for governments, companies, financial institutions, multilateral banks and other donors, conservation organisations and academia, and members of civil society. 

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