Biodiversity Offsetting - Environmental Audit Committee Contents


1.  The biodiversity offsetting metric described in the Green Paper is overly simplistic. The speed with which the metric can be applied to sites (the Government estimates 20 minutes) should not be the priority. The priority should be ensuring rigorous protection of the environment. (Paragraph 16)

2.  In any offsetting system, the application of biodiversity assessments needs to command respect from a range of parties—developers, local authorities, environmental groups and local people. Transparency is essential if biodiversity offsetting is to earn public acceptance. (Paragraph 19)

3.  Offsetting provides a means of compensating environmental loss from development only as a last resort, after the possibility of alternative development sites or mitigating the extent of the loss have been exhaustively examined. (Paragraph 29)

4.  A market could encourage offset providers to offer projects of a size that facilitated 'ecosystem networks', in part prompted by potentially lower costs from the greater economies of scale that these would allow. A danger is that the market could produce many offsets of a similar, lowest-cost, type rather than a mixed range of types. (Paragraph 34)

5.  A mandatory, rather than voluntary, offsetting system could help a market to develop, which would in turn allow more environmentally and economically viable offset projects to be brought forward. Poor uptake in the pilots suggests that compulsion is needed, but the case for a mandatory system has not yet been made. (Paragraph 35)

6.  There are both advantages and disadvantages in offsetting. It might be possible to devise a better metric and more robust systems for assessing individual offset projects, and ensure that they are only used as a last resort under the mitigation hierarchy. But a weakness of the Green Paper is that it does not provide a clear and evidenced analysis of how, in its words, offsetting would deliver "biodiversity gain" and be "quicker and more transparent, certain and consistent". The offsetting pilots might provide that information, but they are still underway. More fundamentally, however, before any offsetting scheme is taken forward there needs to be recognition that unless like-for-like habitat replacement is required, any process will have to make ultimately subjective 'equivalence' judgements about the value of nature. (Paragraph 42)

7.  The two-year offsetting pilots have not yet run their course, nor have their results been independently evaluated in line with commitments made by environment ministers in 2011. It is too soon to reach a decision on offsetting while the pilots have yet to be completed and independently evaluated. In the meantime the Government proposals appear to place as much, if not more, store on experience with offsetting in other countries, notably Australia which has little in common with the environmental landscape and development pressures of England. (Paragraph 45)

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Prepared 12 November 2013