Tuesday, 22. July 2014

Natural capital accounting is generating a lot of attention lately. The Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP) reports on the No to net loss of biodiversity and beyond summit at London Zoo, which it recently co-hosted with the Zoological Society of London, Forest Trends and the UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs.

Offsetting has been more than a little controversial in the UK and elsewhere, and that debate was front and center at the meeting in London. In advance of the summit, a counter-workshop was organized nearby by environmental groups. And inside the conference, a special session was organized to give critics a chance to air their views.

There are still a lot of questions on how best to move forward on offsetting (with some preferring not to move forward at all), but at the summit we saw efforts to find a middle ground. At an 'Opportunity or Peril' debate, signs of agreement started to surface by the end of the discussion. Most panelists reiterated that good planning and the mitigation hierarchy were of primary importance. In fact, one audience member pointed out that perhaps "biodiversity offsets" were receiving the brunt of what was probably much broader discontent with weakening in land planning and environmental protection – in England at least. There was also agreement that success requires that the mitigation hierarchy be reinforced with clear legislation and strong enforcement, as seen in the German and US systems. Some skepticism remained that offsets in isolation could be positive, and would not lead to easing of protections and even corrupt environmental NGOs with a dependence on destruction-based funding.

Of course, design matters just as much as implementation does. As Morgan Robertson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wetlandia blog told the counter-workshop, "You get what you measure in offsetting, and usually you are measuring the wrong thing."

Biodiversity offset pilots in the UK and a proposed national framework offer an opportunity to "seize this moment of measurement," and have a robust debate that clears up misconceptions and addresses legitimate concerns about offsets. A piece in the Guardian wonders whether the UK government and other stakeholders have the appetite to continue that conversation. We hope so. One place to start is the current consultation on an EU-level No Net Loss initiative that recently opened, seeking public input on introducing a continent-wide mitigation hierarchy to reverse ongoing biodiversity decline – including whether to utilize offset mechanisms.

Other conference highlights included sessions on designing and implementing national or regional No Net Loss frameworks, stacking and bundling of ecosystem services, and an incredible quantity of experience shared by practitioners from around the world. Stay tuned for video interviews and other conference footage – they're in the editing room and will be made available soon at Ecosystem Marketplace.

In other news this month, an historic ecosystem services compensation law has finally passed in Peru, while in Queensland, Australia a new Offsets Act promises to streamline offset approvals.

Natural capital accounting has also been in the news recently, with a new review of the World Bank-led Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) partnership citing some recent achievements in implementing natural capital accounting at the country level (like in the Philippines) and engaging the private sector. Businesses ignore natural capital at their peril, warns a new report that finds a bevy of challenges – unsustainable profit levels, cash flow problems, supply chain risk and reputational damages – for firms that fail to account for natural capital."

Source: The Ecosystem Marketplace Team