Biodiversity offsets under scrutiny

16 Jun 2012

If there is one thing the four panel experts could agree on at Forest & Bird’s annual conference, it’s biodiversity offsets are here now so we need to put systems in place to safeguard our future.

The panel experts at a Biodiversity Offsets Seminar on the opening day of the conference were Department of Conservation’s Gerri Ward, PhD student Marie Brown, Andrew Cameron from Brookfields Lawyers and Forest & Bird’s Peter Anderson. For nearly three hours on Friday afternoon they shared their experiences, concerns and suggestions for establishing a fair and robust system that ensures biodiversity offsetting is applied to developments in a suitable manner.

Biodiversity offsetting is being used as a form of mitigation in the Environment Court all the time. However, developers, lawyers and other stakeholders appear to be shooting in the dark as New Zealand currently has no legal framework to implement the tool.

The result, as Marie’s presentation showed, is seldom positive for the environment.

The University of Waikato student is three years into researching how biodiversity offsetting is used in New Zealand or. as she described it, “where the rubber met the road”.

She discovered by visiting sites and conducting interviews that few developments actually delivered the promised environmental outcomes. Monitoring was lax, miscommunication between companies and the contractors was rife and authorities did not always have the resources or inclination to prosecute non-compliers.

The grim picture underscored the reality of Forest & Bird’s concerns and echoed Andrew Cameron’s insistence that New Zealand needs to develop robust measures to ensure biodiversity offsetting is applied appropriately, and ultimately maximise the opportunities it offers.

DOC is currently putting together a national framework and guidelines. The panellists warned of the complexity and potential pitfalls of setting up a framework, and it was agreed it would be even more foolish to proceed blindly without one.