Biodiversity Offsets Programme update, August 2012

Published:  

August 2012

Read about biodiversity offsetting research undertaken as part of the Cross-Departmental Research Pool, legal and international developments in offsetting, and the future for DOC's work in this area.

Full text of the publication

South Island pied oystercatcher.
South Island pied oystercatcher

In 2009, the Department of Conservation (DOC) secured funding via the Cross-Departmental Research Pool (CDRP), administered by the Royal Society to investigate the feasibility of biodiversity offsetting in New Zealand.

The objectives of the CDRP were to fund high quality cross-departmental research, which supports the advancement of Government’s strategic policy priorities; and to develop a portfolio of research activity to catalyse new relationships and capabilities to provide key building blocks for Government’s decision making.

The Biodiversity Offsetting Programme has succeeded in meeting these objectives through research into various technical and policy issues underpinning biodiversity offsetting. This research covered areas such as the key ingredients in designing No Let Loss offsets, appropriateness limits to offsetting, and overcoming systemic barriers to successful offsets.

As a result of this research programme, decision-makers and developers have a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent in this highly complex area.

The CDRP research programme has now drawn to a close, and there will be no further research commissioned through the funding pool. The outputs of the research programme continue to inform DOC’s developing policy position on biodiversity offsetting, and will help to underpin the best practice guidance on biodiversity offsetting in New Zealand being developed by DOC.

The Guidance on Best Practice Biodiversity Offsetting in New Zealand is currently being reviewed internally, and will be further reviewed by specialist restoration ecologists and key stakeholders later in the year. We hope to have a final version published before Christmas. The final version will be endorsed, subject to approval, by the Programme’s Governance Group, comprised of our partner agencies in this Programme: the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Land Information New Zealand, and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Key research out of the CDRP Programme

More than 20 research projects have been completed under the CDRP research programme, covering such areas as:

  • Guidance on No Net Loss and Loss-Gain calculations in biodiversity offsets
  • Biodiversity value thresholds for assessing the risk of undertaking like-for-like offsets
  • The role of monitoring and compliance in securing better biodiversity outcomes through
    offsetting arrangements
  • Practical measures to avoid and overcome systemic barriers to No Net Loss biodiversity offset
    outcomes in New Zealand
  • Issues and recommended considerations discounting for time in biodiversity offsetting
  • Comparing and contrasting data collected on three pilot case studies across currencies and a
    findings analysis
  • Selection and weighting of attributes for use in biodiversity offsetting currencies
  • A comparison of New Zealand biodiversity offset design against the Business Biodiversity Offset Program (BBOP) Standard.

Read some of the research papers from the CDRP programme

The purpose of these papers was to help inform the DOC research programme, rather than be a product out of it. They do not represent DOC’s policy position, but are some of the more compelling and insightful outputs of the CDRP research programme that will contribute to the formation (to some extent) of a position on what might represent best practice in offsetting.

Recent case law developments1

Case Law is slowly emerging on the application of the principles of Biodiversity Offsetting in the Resource Management context.

In August 2011, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) recommended to the Minister for the Environment that the regulatory consent applications lodged for the Transmission Gully project be directed to a Board of Inquiry as a proposal of national significance. The Transmission Gully Board of Inquiry Decision Report (June 2012) considered the principles of Biodiversity Offsetting. In regard to the principle of “No Net Loss”, although recognising the desirability of achieving a no net loss of biodiversity, the Board considered that this outcome was not a requirement of the RMA to be achieved in any given case. The Board acknowledged that sustainable management “requires a broad consideration of sometimes competing factors” such that a proposal may result in a net loss of some values or aspects of the environment when weighted against the benefits of any given proposal. 

Wetland vegetation including flax, Codfish Island.
Wetland vegetation inlcuding flax, Codfish Island

The Board recognised the critical importance of a detailed, principled assessment of the effects of a development project in quantifying the value of biodiversity offsets and the extent of gafins which are required to offset losses. The Board considered that offsetting measures should be constituted as the mitigation of the effects (as opposed to some other form of environmental compensation).

The Horizons One Plan Environment Court decisions were released in August 2012, the decisions noted the relationship between the BBOP principles and the Proposed National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity, noting that the BBOP document is “worthy of respect as a reflection of considered opinion, particularly as it reflects international best practice.”  On the matter of the place of offsetting in the mitigation hierarchy the Court held a view that differed from that of the Board of Inquiry on the Transmission Gully project. The decision considered that offsetting is a response that follows minimisation or mitigation at the point of impact and was not a response that should be “subsumed” under the terms remediation or mitigation.

 The Mokihunui Hydro was a proposed hydroelectric dam and power station planned by Meridian Energy for conservation land in the Mokihinui River on the West Coast. In April 2010, resource consents to dam the Mokihinui River were granted to Meridian. DOC lodged an appeal with the Environment Court on the decision to grant the resource consents to Meridian Energy. In May 2012 Meridian Energy cancelled the project, withdrawing it from the Environment Court. The project was withdrawn due to high costs and environmental concerns.

Expert witness evidence prepared for DOC for the Mokihunui Hydro Environment Court Appeal is available on the Department of Conservation website. The evidence provides topical and valuable information on the effects of the Mokihinui Hydro Power Proposal on the indigenous vegetation and the Applicant's proposed offset package, and assesses the Mokihinui Hydro Power Proposal biodiversity offset package against the principles of the Business Biodiversity Offset Program (BBOP).

1Updated February 2013.

Where to from here?

Kanuka, Kunzea sinclairii, Great Barrier Island.
Kanuka, Kunzea sinclairii, Great Barrier Island

The Policy and Regulatory Services Group at DOC will work to ensure DOC’s current and future work on biodiversity offsets is well coordinated and implemented consistently across the Department. Their work will encompass strategic and operational policy, technical and operational guidance, implementation, and engagement with experts.

The ecological expertise underpinning further policy development of offsetting will continue to be a priority for the Science and Technical Group. A new expert Technical Advisor on biodiversity offsetting will join the Group later this year.

The partner agencies represented on the Programme’s Governance Group will continue to consider the implications and opportunities of biodiversity offsetting policy as it applies to their respective organisations.

Aligning with international work on biodiversity offsets

The DOC Biodiversity Offsetting Programme continues to align with the international Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP) and has sponsored two mutually-beneficial papers under the BBOP research programme. The BBOP Standard on Biodiversity Offsets was released in January 2012, and will be an important tool in the design and assessment of biodiversity offsets.

The Standard will enable project developers to manage biodiversity related risks by providing an auditable approach to no net loss, as well as enabling assessors to determine whether an offset has been designed and subsequently implemented in accordance with the BBOP Principles.

Additional detail can be found in the accompanying Guidance Notes which offer an interpretation of the Criteria and Indicators of the Standard, key questions for assessment, and factors to consider in assessing conformance.

New technical resource papers focus on the Principles of “No Net Loss and Loss-Gain Calculations” and “Limits to What Can Be Offset”.

Recent international developments on offsetting

In the United Kingdom, detailed guidance for councils and developers involved in piloting biodiversity offsets, and for those wishing to provide offsets, has been Kanuka, Kunzea sinclairii, Great Barrier Island published by the environment department (DEFRA). The guidance was published in April 2012 to coincide with the start of six two-year pilots across areas of England where councils will test the concept. In the guidance, DEFRA says that developers beyond the six pilot areas could still use the methodology if the local planning authority agrees.

Northern rata, Moehau, Coromandel Peninsula.
Northern rata, Moehau, Coromandel Peninsula

In New South Wales (NSW), a new bio-banking agreement by Whitehaven Coal Ltd that will conserve more than 1,400 hectares of land on the Liverpool Plains will create NSW's largest BioBanking site to date. The conservation measures are designed to offset the effects of the company's mining operations near Gunnedah. Under the BioBanking scheme, developers and others can buy biodiversity credits from NSW landowners who commit to protecting biodiversity on their land under the terms of a BioBanking agreement. Under the terms of its BioBanking agreement, Whitehaven will provide about $1.8 million to conserve four types of vegetation, including two endangered ecological communities, at the site in the Gunnedah region.

The scheme began in mid 2008, but uptake so far has been slow and the programme is currently under review. Submissions on the scheme are currently being considered.

Recent engagement on offsetting

The DOC CDRP Biodiversity Offsetting Programme Manager has recently presented updates on the Programme at the New Zealand Planning Institute Conference, the Forest & Bird ‘Face up to the Future’ conference, the Regional Councils Biodiversity Forum, the Buddle Findlay Natural Resources seminar,and the EDS ‘Growing Green’ Conference. We intend to continue working with targeted key stakeholders to socialise the purpose and benefits of working with the Guidance on Best Practice Biodiversity Offsetting, so as to ensure consistent understanding and widespread uptake of the Guidance.

The Programme was pleased to host Dr Amrei von Hase (Science Coordinator for the BBOP and coauthor of the two BBOP resource papers mentioned above) in August. Amrei spoke at the EDS ‘Growing Green’ Conference on international approaches to biodiversity offsetting, and presented to various stakeholder groups while here on the BBOP Standard and its application worldwide. The Guidance on Best Practice Biodiversity Offsetting will include a section on the application of the BBOP Standard in the New Zealand context.

Contact

For further information on the DOC CDRP Biodiversity Offsets Programme, please contact Laurence Barea, Technical Advisor, at lbarea@doc.govt.nz or Spencer Clubb, Senior Policy Advisor, at sclubb@doc.govt.nz.

 

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