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The global extent of biodiversity offset implementation under no net loss policies


‘No net loss’ (NNL) biodiversity policies, which seek to neutralize ongoing biodiversity losses caused by economic development activities, are applicable worldwide. Yet, there has been no global assessment concerning practical measures actually implemented under NNL policies. Here, we systematically map the global implementation of biodiversity offsets (‘offsets’)—a crucial yet controversial NNL practice. We find, first, that offsets occupy an area up to two orders of magnitude larger than previously suggested: 12,983 offset projects extending over \(153,679_{ - 64,223}^{ + 25,013}\) km2 across 37 countries. Second, offsets are far from homogeneous in implementation, and emerging economies (particularly in South America) are more dominant in terms of global offsetting area than expected. Third, most offset projects are very small, and the overwhelming majority (99.7%) arise through regulatory requirements rather than prominent project finance safeguards. Our database provides a sampling frame via which future studies could evaluate the efficacy of NNL policies.

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Fig. 1: Spatial information from the biodiversity offset database.
Fig. 2: Key characteristics of biodiversity offsets extracted from the database.
Fig. 3: Frequency distribution of offsets by area, with examples from various countries.

Data availability

All biodiversity offset data have been collated into a single database that accompanies this article. The database is available from the corresponding author upon request, and will also be included within the IUCN Global Inventory of Biodiversity Offset Policies ( Specific sources for each entry, including URLs, are listed in the database.


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We thank all those consulted (Supplementary Table 1) for supporting construction of the database. J.W.B. was funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action under the Horizon 2020 call H2020-MSCA-IF-2014 (grant number 655497). J.W.B. and N.S. acknowledge the Danish National Research Foundation for funding for the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (grant number DNRF96).

Author information




J.W.B. conceived of the study, developed the methodology, collected and analysed the data, and wrote the manuscript. N.S. developed the methodology and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joseph William Bull.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figure 1

Supplementary Data 1

A biodiversity offset database

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Bull, J.W., Strange, N. The global extent of biodiversity offset implementation under no net loss policies. Nat Sustain 1, 790–798 (2018).

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