Protecting biodiversity and economic returns in resource-rich tropical forests.

In pursuit of socioeconomic development, many countries are expanding oil and mineral extraction into tropical forests. These activities seed access to remote, biologically rich areas, thereby endangering global biodiversity. Here we demonstrate that conservation solutions that effectively balance the protection of biodiversity and economic revenues are possible in biologically valuable regions.

Using spatial data on oil profits and predicted species and ecosystem extents, we optimise the protection of 741 terrestrial species and 20 ecosystems of the Ecuadorian Amazon, across a range of opportunity costs (i.e. sacrifices of extractive profit). For such an optimisation, giving up 5% of a year’s oil profits (US$ 221 million) allows for a protected area network that retains of an average of 65% of the extent of each species/ecosystem.

This performance far exceeds that of the network produced by simple land area optimisation which requires a sacrifice of approximately 40% of annual oil profits (US$ 1.7 billion), and uses only marginally less land, to achieve equivalent levels of ecological protection.

Applying spatial statistics to remotely sensed, historic deforestation data, we further focus the optimisation to areas most threatened by imminent forest loss. We identify Emergency Conservation Targets: areas that are essential to a cost-effective conservation reserve network and at imminent risk of destruction, thus requiring urgent and effective protection.

Governments should employ the methods presented here when considering extractive led development options, to responsibly manage the associated ecological-economic trade-offs and protect natural capital. Article Impact Statement: Governments controlling resource extraction from tropical forests can arrange production and conservation to retain biodiversity and profits. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Three ways to deliver a net positive impact with biodiversity offsets.

Biodiversity offsetting is the practice of using conservation actions such as habitat restoration, management or protection to compensate for ecological losses caused by development activity, including construction projects. The typical goal of offsetting is no net loss (NNL), which means that all ecological losses are compensated for by commensurate offset gains.

The focus of this work is a conceptual and methodological exploration of net positive impact (NPI), an ambitious goal that implies commitment to beyond NNL, and which has recently received increasing attention from both big business and environmental NGOs. We build upon three ways to deliver NPI:

(i) use of an additional NPI multiplier, (ii) using permanent offsets to deliver additional gains after NNL has first been reached during a shorter offset evaluation time interval, and a (iii) novel modification of the mitigation hierarchy so that gains from its traditional third step, onsite rehabilitation, can no longer be counted towards reduced offset requirements.

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The outcome from these three factors is that for the same ecological damage, larger offsets will be required than before, and earlier, thereby necessarily improving the success expected from offsets. As a corollary, we show how offsets really are NNL only at one ephemeral point in time, before which they are net negative and after which they turn into either net positive impact or net negative impact, depending on whether permanent offsets are combined with partially temporary losses or if temporary offset gains are combined with partially permanent losses. While we provide operational guidance on how to achieve NPI, it should be understood that achieving it is fully conditional on prior achievement of NNL, and offsets have indeed been frequently observed to fail due to inadequate policy requirements, incompetent planning or incomplete implementation.

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