As the guidance on biodiversity offset implementation continues to evolve, there is the potential for offsets to benefit existing protected area networks through improving connectivity between sites and across landscapes, promoting biodiversity and ecosystem service representation, contributing to national biodiversity targets and supporting sustainable development objectives. Our study assesses the potential for biodiversity offsets (identified through application of the mitigation hierarchy) to deliver biodiversity and ecosystem gains that augment the existing protected area network and landscape goals of representation, configuration and integrity. We explore biodiversity offset design options within a landscape context and present the metrics and approach for how protected area networks may be strengthened by the systematic spatial design of offsets through i) augmenting the area under effective conservation management, ii) improving quality metrics of shape and perimeter exposure, iii) increasing overall landscape level goals of biodiversity and ecosystem representation and iv) improving connectivity within the network. In exploring these variables we seek to establish the importance of appropriate design and consideration of alternatives in biodiversity offset scoping, augment the existing standards for achieving No Net Loss within a landscape context and further develop how protected area networks may benefit from Net Positive Impact approaches of additionality and offset aggregation. This study is designed to be a critical discussion piece on strengthening frameworks and guidance on biodiversity offsets and landscape planning, rather than provide concrete conclusions, of which will require stakeholder discussion between industry, governments and institutions.
The aim of this critical discussion piece is to share new perspectives on how protected area networks can be considered in the spatial design and implementation of biodiversity offsets within developing landscapes. Crucially, offsets are seen as a last resort for minimising biodiversity losses after appropriate application of the mitigation hierarchy and are not considered the preferential mechanism for strengthening protected area networks. We acknowledge that there are many thorough biodiversity offset standards across governments, sectors and institutions. This project aims to present solutions that complement these existing standards to fully account for potential improvements to protected area integrity and biodiversity persistence across landscapes through biodiversity offset design processes.
In many cases when a project is designing a biodiversity offset strategy, there is often inadequate incorporation of the spatial components of offsets, a lack of consideration of alternative options of spatial configuration and limited assessment of their relative contribution to site level targets and landscape level goals. Moreover, there is a shortcoming as to how protected area networks should be considered when understanding the impacts of developments in a landscape context. This includes a lack of guidance on how the placement and representation of existing protected areas can play a role in influencing biodiversity offset design, for example through weighting the placement of offsets close to protected area boundaries to increase effective areas and improve landscape connectivity within the protected area network and between off reserve areas of biodiversity and ecological importance.
The analysis component will draw on knowledge and case studies developed by FFI and partners to explore offset design and implementation options within developing landscapes and how they contribute, or otherwise, to national biodiversity targets and sustainable development objectives. The landscape context of this presentation is set in the Central Namib, Namibia, building upon FFI and partner’s long-term engagement with industry and the Government of Namibia on strengthening the protected area network and minimising the impacts of rapid and large-scale developments.
To guide the assessment, existing industry, institutional and governmental offset frameworks in focal regions have been reviewed and the synergies and complementary components of these have been identified. The approach of offset design follows a spatial systematic planning framework and uses metrics of fragmentation, irreplaceability and representation to assess the efficacy of offset design options in relation to landscape goals and protected area objectives and integrity. Offset design scenarios have been developed following realised and potential development pressures and draw on best-practice guidelines to define and compare different metrics and offset requirements. This assessment focuses on the frameworks and mechanisms of the consideration of protected area and landscape level goals in biodiversity offset design, rather than guidelines and challenges of the implementation of biodiversity offsets in the landscape.
Lessons learnt and shared from this project include:
- Whilst biodiversity offsets are a last resort in minimising development impacts, their spatial design can be improved to ensure that their placement in the landscape complements existing areas of high biodiversity
- Protected areas commonly harbor high biodiversity and should be used as a foundation to guide the scoping of biodiversity offsets in the landscape
- Synergies exist between protected areas and biodiversity offset objectives. This includes shared goals of minimising the vulnerability of further biodiversity loss through conservation management, maximizing the persistence of biodiversity through ecologically appropriate design and in the representation of threatened or unique biodiversity features
- There is not only one potential biodiversity offset spatial design in a landscape. There is a need for the assessment of alternatives in biodiversity offset design, irrespective of an achievement of No Net Loss or Net Positive Impact, to ensure that the spatial configuration of the offset network positively contributes to the protected area network and sites of ecological importance
- This assessment support for the need for developers to adapt and augment biodiversity offset standards as best practice to maximise the contribution and efficacy of biodiversity offsets in a landscape.
The outcomes of this study are related to both the Namib landscape context and contribution to the wider development of robust biodiversity offset design. The results of the offset modelling are significantly contributing to the discussions around strengthening protected area networks, development pressures and biodiversity offsets in Namibia, largely being driven by industry and organisations. Moreover, this project directly contributes to the proof of concept around aggregated offsets in landscapes and the developing metrics around offset design and monitoring indicators. One major impact of this work is the importance for developers to consider their detrimental direct and cumulative impacts in the landscape, in addition to the importance of making their required offsets contribute positively biodiversity and the existing protected area network. The outcomes of this study will continue to support FFI and partner’s roles in the development of best practice guidelines and frameworks. It is also being used to support the practical application of biodiversity offsets on the ground through our business partnerships. It is hoped that these outputs can contribute to the wider progress on the development and application of the mitigation hierarchy and biodiversity offsets and help to develop indicators for the monitoring of benefits to biodiversity, both within protected area networks and the wider landscape.