Offsets – fertile ground for metaphors rather than conservation

Biodiversity offsets – technical, convoluted, yet somehow intriguing and fascinating! What are we talking about? In brief this type of offset is intended to be a form of ‘compensation’ for removal or destruction of native vegetation (or biodiversity more generally), once attempts have been made at avoiding or minimizing the damage.

In theory, a biodiversity offset seeks to produce a benefit by way of repairing or restoring habitat elsewhere so that an overall landscape gain is achieved. It’s a kind of accounting mechanism. But in practice, how do you account for the loss of unique habitat, unique biodiversity?

The Victorian government wants to ‘free up’ the market in offsets, whereby proponents clearing native vegetation can more easily source offsets from those landholders who have them available for sale – or even just show us the money and you can pay a fee in lieu of getting an offset. Some see this as a modern form of religious indulgence – a payment to wash away your sins.

There is no evidence the existing practice of ‘offsetting’ biodiversity loss actually achieves any overall ecological gain. Most likely it does not. Making it easier to obtain the right to clear land in exchange for binding someone else to undertake conservation works easily declines into a process of biodiversity conservation funded by land clearing. To mix metaphors, this is rather like bombing the village in order to save it. We need a major rethink about this land management device.

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