NZ Biodiversity Offsetting Workshop, Canterbury University, Christchurch, April 2009

Biodiversity offsetting is in early stages of development in New Zealand and there are no agreed frameworks, methods, or standards for evaluating sites, habitats, ecosystems and offset areas. This creates problems for developers, ecologists, consent authorities and commissioners or Judges in planning hearings.

This workshop was organized by Associate Professor David Norton (University of Canterbury) assisted by Mark Pizey (Environmental Manager, Solid Energy NZ), Mark Christensen (lawyer, Anderson Lloyd Caudwell) and Dr Judith Roper-Lindsay (ecologist, Boffa Miskell Ltd and EIANZ Chapter member). David is involved in developing a framework and principles for offsetting in New Zealand (see Solid Energy New Zealand and the Business Biodiversity Offsets Program), while providing offset advice for specific projects; Solid Energy is engaged in one of the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP) pilot projects, while Mark Christensen has acted in a number of planning cases on projects where offsets are proposed.

We were able to time the workshop to coincide with the visit of Kerry ten Kate. She provided a valuable overview of offsetting and the BBOP in particular – especially highlighting the uncertainty around it. A range of invited speakers covered industry, ecological, legal/social/market and perspectives and there was about 90 minutes of strong discussion at the end of the day.

Key points to come from the talks and discussion:
  • Biodiversity offsetting is beset with uncertainty – ecological, legal, and financial
  • Accepted principles are being developed both globally (through BBOP) and locally (through case law)
  • Ecological uncertainty relates to: finding comparable habitats and places; long term ecological outcomes of proposed offsets; thresholds for determining losses that are not offsettable; establishing an agreed system for measuring habitat quality and quantity (in New Zealand); and lack of certainty about current trends in NZ ecosystems.
  • Industry concerns relate to: clarity around offsetting requirements under the NZ Resource Management Act; possible need to gain control over proposed offset land; and long term nature of ecological aspects of offsetting proposals.
  • Policy/ legal uncertainty relates to: systems to protect and ensure that offsetting proposals are seen through to completion or achievement of objectives; long-term funding of proposals; lack of a nationally agreed system, framework, or set of principles; and new market opportunities.
A representative of the Ministry for the Environment said that while Minister recognizes that the topic is important, it is not in their immediate work programme. However, it might be taken up as part of any work on a National Policy Statement on Biodiversity.

Presentations Powerpoints available as PDF

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