Moving from biodiversity offsets to a target-based approach for ecological compensation

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  • Jeremy S. Simmonds
    University of Queensland
  • Laura J. Sonter
    University of Queensland
  • James E. M. Watson
    University of Queensland
  • Leon Bennun
    University of Cambridge
  • Hugo M. Costa
    Wildlife Conservation Society
  • Guy Dutson
    The Biodiversity Consultancy
  • Stephen Edwards
    International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • Hedley Grantham
    Wildlife Conservation Society
  • Victoria F. Griffiths
    University of Oxford
  • J.P.G. Jones
  • Joseph Kiesecker
    The Nature Conservancy
  • Hugh P. Possingham
    University of Queensland
  • Philippe Puydarrieux
    International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • Fabien Quétier
  • Helga Rainer
    Arcus Foundation
  • Hugo Rainey
    Wildlife Conservation Society
  • Dilys Roe
    International Institute for Environment and Development
  • Conrad E. Savy
    International Finance Corporation
  • Mathieu Souquet
  • Kerry ten Kate
    Forest Trends
  • Ray Victurine
    Wildlife Conservation Society
  • Amrei von Hase
    Forest Trends
  • Martine Maron
    The University of Queensland
Loss of habitats or ecosystems arising from development projects (e.g., infrastructure, resource extraction, urban expansion) are frequently addressed through biodiversity offsetting. As currently implemented, offsetting typically requires an outcome of “no net loss” of biodiversity, but only relative to a baseline trajectory of biodiversity decline. This type of “relative” no net loss entrenches ongoing biodiversity loss, and is misaligned with biodiversity targets that require “absolute” no net loss or “net gain.” Here, we review the limitations of biodiversity offsetting, and in response, propose a new framework for compensating for biodiversity losses from development in a way that is aligned explicitly with jurisdictional biodiversity targets. In the framework, targets for particular biodiversity features are achieved via one of three pathways: Net Gain, No Net Loss, or (rarely) Managed Net Loss. We outline how to set the type (“Maintenance” or “Improvement”) and amount of ecological compensation that is appropriate for proportionately contributing to the achievement of different targets. This framework advances ecological compensation beyond a reactive, ad‐hoc response, to ensuring alignment between actions addressing residual biodiversity losses and achievement of overarching targets for biodiversity conservation.


  • Convention on Biological Diversity, averted loss, biodiversity loss, counterfactual, environmental impact assessment, environmental policy, infrastructure development, mitigation hierarchy, net gain, no net loss
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12695
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number2
Early online date9 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

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