Offsets for environmental impacts are increasingly being seen as a way to help meet pre-existing conservation targets, such as those relating to the establishment and management of protected areas. However, the interaction between international agreements around protected areas and offset policy can generate perverse incentives, which must be carefully managed to avoid poor conservation outcomes. In this paper, we discuss when protected area gains can validly be achieved using offsets. We propose separate accounting for conservation gains generated using offsets, and argue that future conservation agreements and targets should explicitly separate commitments met using offset gains from those which are not reliant on equivalent losses.
This article follows on from a short comment we published last year in Nature (Stop misuse of offsets) where we warned of the risks associated with allowing funds intended for offsets to be used to achieve pre-existing conservation commitments, such as meeting the Aichi Targets under the CBD, without careful accounting and appropriate scrutiny. That article attracted some further commentary and you can read it and our responses here and here. Our new paper provides a fuller exploration of the potential outcomes of directing offset funds towards meeting existing conservation commitments, and the circumstances under which offsets can contribute to achieving protected area outcomes in a valid and fair way. I should add that we owe thanks to many of you for valuable discussions on the topic over the past year or so. And in case you missed it, another great discussion of the topic came out recently in Biological Conservation.
Download the paper here.
Read it online here.