BBOP and Biodiversity Offsets in Vietnam

June 4, 2010
By admin

The following article originally appeared on the Ecosystem Marketplace website.

3 June 2010 | On April 22, 2010, the Government of Vietnam, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MONRE) held an initial workshop with the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP), a program of Ecosystem Marketplace publisher Forest Trends, to discuss the potential for biodiversity offsets to help Vietnam achieve its conservation and development goals.  Following this initial gathering, the government of Vietnam requested BBOP’s assistance as it further develops policies on biodiversity compensation.  BBOP and MARD have now initiated discussions on the objectives and activities of this collaboration, and are seeking donor support.

Given that biodiversity offsets are still a novel approach in many parts of the world, our Insight Series wanted to delve a bit deeper into BBOP’s approach, Vietnam’s developing biodiversity compensation framework, and what this new partnership hopes to achieve in the next two years

What is a biodiversity offset?

A biodiversity offset is a way to demonstrate that a development (such as a mine or forest plantation) can be implemented in a manner that results in no net loss or a net gain of biodiversity.  BBOP defines biodiversity offsets as “the measurable conservation outcomes of actions designed to compensate for significant residual adverse biodiversity impacts arising from project development after appropriate prevention and mitigation measures have been taken. The goal of biodiversity offsets is to achieve no net loss and preferably a net gain of biodiversity on the ground with respect to species composition, habitat structure, ecosystem function and people’s use and cultural values associated with biodiversity”.

More than 30 countries have laws requiring biodiversity offsets, many others require some form of compensatory conservation, and others still are now exploring policy frameworks for biodiversity offsets.  This is because biodiversity offsets offer a way to achieve better conservation outcomes than typically result from project planning, as developers using a biodiversity offset plan for ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity.  This goes beyond traditional mitigation of impacts, and encourages business to take responsibility for its impacts.  Biodiversity offsets thus result in new and additional investments in conservation outcomes by the private sector, which can help governments achieve the conservation targets they have adopted in national biodiversity strategies and action plans.

Developers are often unsure what is expected of them by government in terms of avoiding, minimizing and ultimately compensating for their impacts on biodiversity.  Clear guidance by government through biodiversity offset policy is welcome as it offers companies legal certainty, efficiency and cost savings in the planning process, and flexibility in how to achieve agreed conservation goals.

What is BBOP?

The Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program is an international partnership of over 50 different company, financial, government, and civil society representatives, who are members of its Advisory Group.  BBOP was established by Forest Trends, an environmental non-profit organization that works globally to support market-based approaches to conservation.  Together, the BBOP members aim to test and develop best practice on biodiversity offsets and conservation banking worldwide.

BBOP’s work is based on real experiences of biodiversity offset design in pilot projects with companies and involves governments which are leaders in the field of biodiversity offsets, often with many years of experience in designing and administering biodiversity offset systems at the national or state level.

One of BBOP’s priorities is to provide technical support and policy advice on biodiversity offsets, landscape-level and regional planning to governments, through general reports and specific advice. BBOP brings experience from around the world to governments which are preparing or reviewing policy related to biodiversity offsets.  This experience comes from different sectors in society, and may include other governments that have developed and administered offset systems, companies that have developed voluntary biodiversity offsets and had experience of complying with offset regulations, financial institutions that include requirements for offsets in their loan conditions, and NGOs that have experience of designing offsets and analyzing offset policies around the world.   BBOP does not speak on behalf of its various constituent members, but gathers and synthesizes lessons from their experiences.

In the absence of a policy requirement for no net loss, the companies BBOP works with are those that will gain the most from undertaking biodiversity offsets.  These are generally companies which have a footprint on biodiversity that represents a business risk for them.  For instance, infrastructure projects, mining, oil and gas, hydropower, wind power, road projects, railways, housing development, tourism and some forms of agriculture.  These companies often find benefits to working with BBOP as governments, financial institutions, and civil society increasingly expect developers to take full responsibility for their biodiversity impacts.  In many cases, biodiversity offsets offer companies a way to demonstrate no net loss of biodiversity, improve outcomes for local communities, and reduce operational and project development risks.

Vietnam’s Biodiversity Law

In Vietnam, a legal framework on biodiversity offsets already exists. Article 75 of the recent Biodiversity Law states that “organizations or individuals that infringe upon conservation areas or biodiversity conservation facilities… shall pay damages in accordance with law”, and that “damage caused to biodiversity due to environmental pollution or degradation shall be compensated in accordance with law”.  In addition, MONRE has just submitted for approval to the Prime Minister a draft national decree on compensation for environmental damages. These pieces of legislation will serve as a foundational framework upon which biodiversity offset policy can be developed in Vietnam.

During the workshop held with MARD and MONRE on April 22, participants agreed that the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program approach can be adopted in Vietnam.

The Next Steps

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in the name of the Directorate of Forestry has stated that biodiversity offsets are potentially very useful for Vietnam and requested the technical support of BBOP, which gratefully accepted this opportunity to assist Vietnam balance its development and conservation objectives.  Conclusions from the workshop included the following points:

  • The Government of Vietnam is interested to learn more from international experiences and the existing knowledge developed by projects within Vietnam to establish suitable policies and support programs that work for government, companies and civil society.
  • BBOP will assist MARD develop one or more pilot projects in special use forest areas.
  • BBOP will run a regional or sub-regional training on biodiversity offsets, in order to build Vietnamese capacity in this field of expertise.
  • BBOP will provide policy and research support to help improve and develop existing Vietnamese policies and supporting legislative arrangements, such as incorporating biodiversity offsets into the Environmental Impact Assessment framework, the Strategic Environmental Assessment, the Biodiversity Law, and/or the Compensation for Environmental Damages framework.

Over the next several months, MARD and BBOP expect to develop a Memorandum of Understanding that will capture shared expectations, roles and responsibilities for this work.  They will develop a workplan for the following two year period that will define activities and objectives, as well as the resources needed to achieve them.

Patrick Maguire is program manager for the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program.  He can be reached at pmaguire (at) forest-trends.org.

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