When is an offset not an offset? A framework of necessary conditions for biodiversity offsets

Jenny Pope, Angus Morrison-Saunders, Alan Bond, Francois Retief

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


Biodiversity offsets have become a widely-accepted means of attempting to compensate for biodiversity loss from development, and are applied in planning and decision-making processes at many levels. Yet their use is contentious, and numerous problems with both the concept and the practice have been identified in the literature. Our starting point is the understanding that offsets are a kind of biodiversity compensation measure through which the goal of no net loss (or net gain) of biodiversity can be at least theoretically achieved. Based on a typology of compensation measures distinguishing between habitat protection, improvement (including restoration, habitat creation and improved management practices), and other compensation, we review the literature to develop a framework of conditions that must be met if habitat protection and improvement initiatives can be truly considered offsets and not merely a lesser form of compensation. It is important that such conceptual clarity is reflected in offsets policy and guidance, if offsets are to be appropriately applied and have any chance of fully compensating for biodiversity loss. Our framework can be used to support the review and ongoing development of offsets policy and guidance, with the aim of improving clarity, rigour and therefore the chances that good biodiversity outcomes can be achieved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424–435
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Management
Early online date22 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • biodiversity offsets
  • biodiversity compensation
  • mitigation hioerarchy
  • no net loss
  • net gain
  • offsets policy

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