When you think of biodiversity conservation, you probably think of the classic images: the polar bear, the lion, the elephant, the giraffe. The ecological community likes to call them charismatic megafauna, with only a hint of satire.
But did you know that the only thing that can neutralise the deadliest, antibiotic-resistant superbug on this planet is a fungus? Now, note that it was discovered in the soil of a Canadian national park, and it rather makes the argument (well, the anthropogenic argument) for conservation of biodiversity in all its shapes and forms by itself. Behold the power of a fungus!
Unfortunately, most biodiversity has been having a rough time of it lately.
As we have all heard recently, WWF’s 2014 Living Planet Report has reported a 52% decline in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish overall from 1970 to 2010, while IUCN’s Red List indicates that a quarter of mammals, over a tenth of birds, and 41% of amphibians are at risk of extinction. The decline is worse in the tropics, and particularly in Latin America, where species populations have dropped by 83% since 1970. Significantly scaled up efforts will be needed if we are to reach the 2011-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets – agreed upon at the 2010 conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity – in time. And this is true not only for conservation, but also for the sustainable use of biodiversity and natural resources.
Here at the OECD, we’re looking at how to scale up finance for biodiversity, and how instruments for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity can be designed and implemented in more effective ways. One instrument, biodiversity offsets, has recently been gaining much attention from government and business alike. Based on the polluter pays approach, biodiversity offsets operate under a “no-net-loss” principle, and have the potential to reduce the costs of achieving environmental objectives.
To be sure, there are difficulties. The most obvious one is that biodiversity is not like carbon: one unit emitted here does not equal one unit saved there. Biodiversity is highly specific, and often highly localised; there are many ecosystems that wouldn’t necessarily exist if ecological conditions changed slightly. So project developers need to be particularly careful at building in safeguards; offsets must be a last resort after avoidance and mitigation; offset design must adhere to strict requirements for ecological equivalence; and monitoring and verification must be extremely robust.
As we work through establishing good practice insights, we hope that biodiversity offsets will be able to provide developers with an additional tool to reduce their adverse impacts on biodiversity in a cost-effective way. That really would be a win-win – and one that would make all superbug-fighting fungi happy.
The OECD held a workshop on biodiversity offsets in November 2013, with representation from governments, industry, and civil society. Keep an eye out for our publication, forthcoming in early 2015.