Funding source: National Environmental Research Program Environmental Decisions Hub

It’s projected that nearly a billion hectares of terrestrial ecosystems will be lost by 2050 as land continues to be converted for growing food and fibre, extracting minerals and oil, and housing people. Even with a first-rate protected area network, habitat losses and extinctions will continue - and probably accelerate.

Biodiversity offsets schemes have been introduced in many countries to try to compensate for the losses and recalibrate the balance between environmental protection and human development.

Biodiversity offsetting compensates for environmental damage at one location by generating ecologically equivalent gains at another, aiming to achieve ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity. However, poor design and implementation often prevent these regulatory tools from achieving this goal.

UQ scientists in the National Environmental Research Program (NERP) Environmental Decisions Hub worked with the Australian Government’s Department of the Environment to develop a practical tool for evaluating biodiversity offsetting where it impacts on nationally threatened species and ecological communities.

This tool, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act Offsets Assessment Guide, is the first of its kind to be used in any jurisdiction worldwide. It explicitly and transparently accounts for additionality, uncertainty, and time lags in calculating offset requirements.

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Martine Maron, said the guidelines are intended to give greater certainty to businesses and other organisations planning actions that may be subject to an offset requirement.

“When applied with rigour, biodiversity offsetting can reduce the chance of steeper declines in habitats and species, and reveal the potential replacement cost of lost biodiversity,” said Dr Maron.

“The good news is that NERP research is informing Australia’s offset calculator and policy, and helping us develop more effective approaches to biodiversity offsetting.”