OOS 26-9 - The biodiversity bank cannot be a lending bank

Wednesday, August 10, 2011: 4:20 PM
16B, Austin Convention Center
Sarah A. Bekessy1, Brendan Wintle2, David B. Lindenmayer3, Michael A. McCarthy4, Mark C. Colyvan5, Mark A. Burgman2 and Hugh P. Possingham6, (1)School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, (2)School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, (3)Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, (4)School of BioSciences, The University of Melbourne, Australia, (5)School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, (6)ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia

“Offsetting” habitat destruction has widespread appeal as an instrument for balancing economic growth with biodiversity conservation. Requiring proponents to pay the nontrivial costs of habitat loss encourages sensitive planning approaches. Offsetting, biobanking, and biodiverse carbon sequestration schemes will play an important role in conserving biodiversity under increasing human pressures. However, untenable assumptions in existing schemes are undermining their benefits. Policies that allow habitat destruction to be offset by the protection of existing habitat are guaranteed to result in further loss of biodiversity. Similarly, schemes that allow trading the immediate loss of existing habitat for restoration projects that promise future habitat will, at best, result in time lags in the availability of habitat that increases extinction risks, or at worst, fail to achieve the offset at all.


We detail concerns about existing approaches and describe how offsetting and trading policies can be improved to provide genuine benefits for biodiversity. Due to uncertainties about the way in which restored vegetation matures, we propose that the biodiversity bank should be a savings bank. Accrued biodiversity values should be demonstrated before they can be used to offset biodiversity losses. Mature vegetation could be sold to a party interested in clearing an equivalent amount and quality of vegetation. Alternatively, a market could be established for buying and selling banked biodiversity (i.e., habitat created above and beyond “duty of care”). A few other considerations include:

  • The currency of trade must reflect ecological realities, including irreplaceability and the dynamic nature of landscapes;
  • Responsibility for maintaining and protecting offsets must be identified, and
  • Implementation must be closely regulated and legally enforceable.

Biobanking may have appeal as an elegant economic instrument for balancing economic growth with biodiversity conservation. But the purpose is dubious if it fails to deliver real benefits for biodiversity and may in effect reduce pressure on developers to avoid harm. The extinction debt in many parts of the world from past clearance means that we need vegetation policies that aim to achieve net gain in the landscape. The only way to achieve this through offsetting schemes is if the biodiversity bank is established as a genuine savings bank.

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