The biodiversity bank cannot be a lending bank

“Offsetting” habitat destruction has widespread appeal as an instrument for balancing economic growth with biodiversity conservation. Requiring proponents to pay the nontrivial costs of habitat loss encourages sensitive planning approaches. Offsetting, biobanking, and biodiverse carbon sequestration schemes will play an important role in conserving biodiversity under increasing human pressures. However, untenable assumptions in existing schemes are undermining their benefits. Policies that allow habitat destruction to be offset by the protection of existing habitat are guaranteed to result in further loss of biodiversity. Similarly, schemes that allow trading the immediate loss of existing habitat for restoration projects that promise future habitat will, at best, result in time lags in the availability of habitat that increases extinction risks, or at worst, fail to achieve the offset at all. We detail concerns about existing approaches and describe how offsetting and trading policies can be improved to provide genuine benefits for biodiversity. Due to uncertainties about the way in which restored vegetation matures, we propose that the biodiversity bank should be a savings bank. Accrued biodiversity values should be demonstrated before they can be used to offset biodiversity losses. We provide recommendations about how this could be achieved in practice.
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