Video: Economic and Ecological Outcomes of Flexible Biodiversity Offset Systems

Tom Habib

Biodiversity offsets are a system for mitigating ecological damage resulting from development projects, where developers are responsible for compensating for lost biodiversity elements through undertaking conservation actions elsewhere. Central to the concept of offsets are the ideas of equivalency and no-net-loss; that is, that compensation should target the same types of biodiversity that are lost, and in equal measure. While appealing, focussing on equivalency of type may miss out on opportunities to target regional conservation priorities, and may also increase costs due to restricted offset placement options. Using the oil sands industry of Alberta as a case study, we evaluated the economic and ecological performance of alternative offset networks targeting either ecologically equivalent areas or regional conservation priorities (caribou ranges and the Dry Mixedwood natural subregion). Priority-focused networks were 2 - 17 times less expensive than equivalency-focused networks, suggesting possible benefits to industry and environmental stakeholders by allowing for lower-cost conservation of valued ecological features, and inviting discussion on what land-use trade-offs are acceptable when trading biodiversity via offsets.