Fabien Quétier is a senior consultant at Biotope, a consulting firm specialized in biodiversity and ecosystem services. He is an agronomist by training, and obtained a PhD in ecology for his research on the vulnerability of ecosystem services to land-use change in the traditional agricultural landscapes of Europe. He then went on to work on the same issue on the agricultural frontier of Argentina and Bolivia. He now has 15 years of experience in interfacing ecological knowledge and methods with socio-economic issues in support of decisions concerning natural resource and land-use management and policy. At Biotope he advises clients on the mitigation and offsetting of development impacts on biodiversity for energy projects (hydro, wind), infrastructure projects (road and rail, airports, residential and commercial construction), mining and industrial facilities. He has worked extensively in Europe and across the tropics (Central and West Africa, China, Madagascar, South America, New Caledonia, etc.) where he has designed and led the preparation of successful biodiversity studies (including Critical Habitat and High Conservation Value assessments), biodiversity action plans, and mitigation and offset management plans and am a recognized practitioner of international best practice in this field (including IFC PS6, EBRD PR6, the BBOP Standard and EU Directives). With this background, he regularly advises companies, NGOs and governments on their biodiversity policies (including IUCN, OECD, the European Commission, the governments of France and its dependencies, and of several African countries).
Compensation: designing and implementing biodiversity offsets for wind energy projects
With biodiversity being lost at unprecedented rates, mitigating the impacts of development projects is a growing concern, but so is compensating the residual impacts that could not be sufficiently avoided or reduced. International best practice indicates that compensation must be designed and implemented to effectively and fully compensate for the residual loss of biodiversity, by generating measurable conservation gains elsewhere. Full compensation means achieving no net loss (NNL) of biodiversity. In many circumstances, it is financial institutions and company policies that require that greenfield developments in ‘natural’ and ‘critical’ habitats for wildlife achieve NNL, or even ‘net gain’ outcomes.
There are considerable technical and organizational challenges to designing and implementing such compensation, often called ‘biodiversity offsets’. Losses and gains must be assessed and compared, to demonstrate NNL, both in-kind and on the basis of targeted loss-gain metrics for impacted species, habitats, etc. These approaches are grounded on the premise that biodiversity losses and gains can be measured and assigned to a particular intervention. The need for verifiable and repeatable methods for quantifying biodiversity losses and gains has become an imperative. These methods carry the risk of oversimplification, as companies will only manage what they can measure. Alternatively, multi-criteria methods aim to embrace complexity. Through examples from wind energy projects and other sectors, we will illustrate the diversity of available approaches, and discuss their respective merits.
Designing and sizing biodiversity offsets is only a first step, and actual implementation often remains an important hurdle. Thus, offset feasibility must also be assessed, to ensure land and expertise can be accessed for the implementation and long-term management, and that offset plans respect the legal and customary rights of local populations. Legal frameworks have been put in place in several countries worldwide to facilitate actual implementation of biodiversity offsets, e.g. by dedicated offset providers and ‘habitat bank’, and offer the necessary guarantees in terms of financing. The diversity of institutional arrangements for offset implementation will be illustrated through several examples, including recent changes in the regulatory framework applicable to wind energy in France which culminated in a new biodiversity law voted in 2016. With this, we will discuss opportunities and risks around policy development and implementation.
Biodiversity offsets are focused on the net outcome of projects in terms of conservation. These goals interact with other pressing issues, and in particular the concerns of local communities affected by wind energy development. We will discuss how the ecosystem services concept could be used to analyse these interactions, and enable synergies to be found in the management of biodiversity and social impacts from wind energy.
Finally, we discuss the challenges and opportunities of informing decisions at the corporate level based on data generated at the site or project level. How can such data be compiled, across multiple locations, and made relevant for company management? Also, what does this mean for corporate disclosure on biodiversity?