The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Chapter 4: Biodiversity justice in a climate change world: offsetting the future
The concept and practice of ‘offsetting’ has become endemic in many aspects of environmental law and governance. However, there is limited analysis of whether the concept of offsets can contribute effectively to preserving biodiversity under climate change conditions. Many regions are still experiencing biodiversity decline, which will be exacerbated by climate change impacts. The latest IPCC Assessment confirms the likelihood of continued climatic changes that will increase the likelihood of severe impacts such as droughts and floods. Offsets therefore need to ensure the integrity of biodiversity conservation outcomes over broad spatial and temporal parameters, given the uncertainty and variability of impacts under climate change. Accordingly, this chapter examines offsetting in biodiversity conservation and explores how climate change may bring added pressure to bear where biodiversity losses are offset, due to the additional difficulties of predicting how adaptation will need to occur into the future. It discusses whether offsets provide an effective instrument for biodiversity ‘justice’ in a climate change future given a need to ensure equity between current offsets and future climatic risks to biodiversity. Biodiversity offsets are one potential method, among other forms of adaptation, to counter the predicted accelerating decline of biodiversity. However, it is argued that the focus should remain on achieving a net-gain for biodiversity, spatially and temporally, not simply no-net loss (or even substantial losses) in order to achieve long-term viability for many at-risk species and populations.
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