Offsets: Conservation served by flexibility

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The debate over whether national protected areas are eligible for biodiversity-offset funding should factor in the different challenges and contexts for countries seeking to conserve their biodiversity (see M. Maron et al. Nature 523, 401403; 2015).

Offsets that are voluntary (such as those of the mining companies Minera Panamá and QIT Madagascar Minerals; see also are a source of extra conservation funding. This is analogous to grants from foundations or from the Global Environment Facility, which are considered a legitimate way to finance fulfilment of the Aichi biodiversity targets (see

In countries where offsets or compensation payments are required by law or lender standards, they serve as a tax on environmental impacts. This follows the accepted 'polluter pays' taxation model, and has the benefit of earmarking the revenue for conservation.

In heavily populated regions, the only socially acceptable place to implement offsets might be in protected areas selected by public processes. In such settings, offsets and protected areas would need to be closely linked.

Excluding offsets or compensation from financing of protected areas would affect developing countries, most of which struggle to finance such areas. It would, for example, exclude all of Brazil's protected-areas system from contributing to Aichi Target 11, because compensation is integral to the country's law on protected areas.

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  1. Hardner & Gullison Associates, Amherst, New Hampshire, USA.

    • Jared J. Hardner
  2. Hardner & Gullison Associates, Lantzville, British Columbia, Canada; and University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

    • Raymond E. Gullison
  3. Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis, Missouri, USA.

    • Porter P. Lowry II

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  1. Report this comment #67391

    Martine Maron said:

    Thanks to Hardner et al. for adding to this important debate. We agree with the authors that different contexts allow for offset-funded protected areas to be used in different ways. As we outline in Maron et al. Nature 523, 401?403; 2015, the key context is whether or not the protected area establishment or management would have occurred otherwise in order to meet existing commitments. If it would, then the protected area outcomes funded by offsets must be accounted for separately to those used to achieve the existing commitment. If not, then it reveals that the existing commitment is not realistic. Either way, we argue transparent accounting is crucial.
    Further, we suggest that offsets are fundamentally different to a tax. The reasoning for this is set out more fully in Maron et al. In press. . In short, a ?polluter pays?-style tax incentivises reduced pollution, but does not mandate a reduction to a specified level. An offset, on the other hand, is more akin to a ?cap and trade? approach, whereby the net outcome as a result of the offset and the impact is specified: zero impact. Thus, a proponent who does an offset, either voluntarily or otherwise, is purchasing a claim of claim no net impact (or better) as a result of that offset. Using that offset benefit to ?pay? for another commitment would be double-counting.

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