NSW Nature Conservation Council Critical of the NSW Government’s Biodiversity Offset Policy

The NCC has just released a report titled ‘PARADISE LOST’. The report shows that, far from ensuring no loss in biodiversity, offsetting rules are pushing the endangered plants and animals they’re supposed to protect, closer to extinction.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF REPORT
Biodiversity is fundamental to our wellbeing and prosperity because it provides the basic requirements of life and underpins our economy. Our bushland and native animals are integral to our national identity, an essential part of what makes Australia and Australians unique.
Biodiversity in NSW, however, is in steady decline. Almost 80 species of plants and animals have become extinct in the state since Europeans arrived, and there are currently a further 999 threatened with extinction, including 59% of all mammals, 34% of amphibians and 30% of birds. Clearing of native vegetation and habitat modification are the greatest threats to the survival of the great majority of species on the threatened list. After 200 years of settlement, NSW has lost almost half of its bushland through land clearing and only 9% of that which is left is in good condition.
The continuing loss of biodiversity in NSW poses a significant challenge for governments who have a responsibility to protect species and ecosystems and a desire to promote economic growth and create jobs by allowing land clearing for urban development, infrastructure, agriculture, mining and other major projects. State and federal governments in Australia, following the lead of governments around the world, have embraced biodiversity offsetting in a belief that it can resolve this conundrum and deliver growth that is ecologically sustainable. In theory, offsetting achieves this by allowing the loss of biodiversity values at a development site on the condition that biodiversity values at offset sites are protected and enhanced, ensuring there is no net loss of values across all sites.
The NSW Government has used biodiversity offsetting for more than a decade as an adjunct to land clearing, planning and threatened species conservation laws. The government is poised to significantly expand its use through the introduction of a Biodiversity Offsets Methodology (BAM) that is a central pillar of its new biodiversity conservation and landclearing laws, including a new Biodiversity Conservation Act and Local Land Services Amendment Act. This report provides a timely review of the performance of biodiversity offsets policies in NSW and a critical appraisal of the Draft Biodiversity Assessment Methodology that the government proposes to introduce to supersede them.
KEY FINDINGS OF REPORT
1. Biodiversity offsetting schemes in NSW have failed to deliver the promised outcomes. The performance of five existing offsets schemes was examined through the lens of eight Case Studies in the state’s northwest, southwest, Hunter Valley, and in Sydney. These Case Studies demonstrated that biodiversity offsetting in NSW is failing to deliver the environmental outcomes governments and policy makers have promised. In one Case Study (Boggabri/Maules Creek), biodiversity outcomes were deemed to be “Disastrous”. In five others, outcomes were “Poor” (Warkworth, Mount Owen, Huntlee, Albury, Kellyville). Only two Case Studies were found to have resulted in “Adequate” biodiversity outcomes (Namoi, Wagga Wagga), while none resulted in outcomes deemed “Good”.
2. Biodiversity offsetting schemes in NSW have failed to deliver the promised outcomes A review of the key features of the five biodiversity offset schemes in operation in NSW since 2005 found the later models contained fewer best-practice principles and standards than the earlier ones. Schemes were judged on their inclusion of eight features essential for positive environmental outcomes. Only the first offsets scheme (the Environmental Outcomes Assessment Methodology under the NativeVegetation Act) contained all eight features. The Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects introduced by the Baird government in 2014 contained only one.
3. The Draft Biodiversity Assessment Methodology contains fewer bestpractice principles and standards than any previous scheme and will likely deliver worse environmental outcomes. Many of the weaknesses and few of the strengths of earlier offsets schemes have been carried forward into the new Biodiversity Conservation Act and Draft Biodiversity Assessment Methodology, which the government intends to implement in 2017. The government is proceeding with this model despite warnings from leading scientists, conservationists and lawyers who have identified many concerns. For example:
• Clear objectives for protecting biodiversity are lacking
• There is no consideration of impacts on water quality, salinity and soil quality
• It does not provide absolute protection (red flags or ‘no-go zones) for areas of high conservation value
• The like-for-like principle is undermined
• Supplementary measures are allowed in lieu of genuine offsets
• Mine site rehabilitation can be used as an offset credit
• Developers can pay money into a fund rather than find an appropriate offset site
• Offset obligations can be ‘discounted’ under the discretion of the Minister
• Offset areas are not guaranteed protection in perpetuity
• The new scheme is unlikely to meet Federal standards.
CONCLUSION
Biodiversity offsets schemes in NSW are failing to deliver the environmental outcomes governments and policy makers have promised and the design and performance of these schemes is declining.
The proposed Draft Biodiversity Offsets Methodology (BAM) sets lower standards and drifts further from best practice than the underperforming schemes it is intended to replace and will consequently be less effective as a conservation measure. Implementing the BAM will in fact add extinction pressures to the very species and ecological communities offsetting is supposed to protect by facilitating the more rapid and widespread destruction of threatened species habitat across NSW.
The report makes a series of recommendations.
The full ‘PARADISE LOST’. report can be found at:
http://www.nature.org.au/media/265228/bio-offsetting-report_v14.pdf

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