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Policy options to achieve no net loss of biodiversity

The EU intends to develop a ‘no net loss’ (NNL) initiative as part of its Biodiversity Strategy. To support this objective, IEEP led a study for DG Environment on ‘Policy options for no net loss’. The study identified NNL policy gaps and implementation deficiencies and proposed a series of policy options and packages that could contribute to and eventually achieve the NNL target. These options included introducing biodiversity offsetting, the aim of which is to achieve NNL of biodiversity by fully compensating for losses that cannot be avoided, such as by restoring an equivalent area of habitat. There are already proposals to introduce and promote offsetting in England (albeit as a voluntary measure for developers).

The study revealed that achieving NNL would be a substantial and complex challenge. Nevertheless, a major step could be taken towards achieving the target by better implementation of existing policies (eg Habitats Directive, Strategic Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment) in order to avoid and minimise impacts. However, it will be impossible to avoid all impacts and therefore some form of offsetting will be required to achieve NNL. Furthermore, this would need to be a mandatory requirement for all sectors, not only for built developments but also for agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

The introduction of offsets nevertheless has risks, and would be counter-productive if it weakens existing protection measures. Evidence from international experience also shows that commercial pressures may result in poor quality offsets that are inadequately managed and protected over the long term. A striking conclusion is therefore that to be effective offsets must be very carefully designed and stringently regulated with thorough monitoring and enforcement. They are also more likely to provide greater and more reliable biodiversity benefits if they are pooled and delivered by experienced not-for-profit nature conservation organisations.

The study has just been published by the Commission on DG Environment’s no net loss webpage.

For more information please contact Graham Tucker.

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