Offsetting—trading losses in one place for commensurate gains in another—is a tool used to mitigate environmental impacts of development. Biodiversity and carbon are the most widely used targets of offsets; however, other ecosystem services are increasingly traded, introducing new risks to the environment and people. Here, we provide guidance on how to “trade with minimal trade-offs”— i.e. how to offset impacts on biodiversity without negatively affecting ecosystem services and vice versa. We briefly survey the literature on offsetting biodiversity, carbon and other ecosystem services, revealing that each subfield addresses unique issues (often overlooking those raised by others) and rarely assesses potential trade-offs. We discuss key differences between offsets that trade biodiversity and those that trade ecosystem services, conceptualise links between these different targets in an offsetting context and describe three broad approaches to manage potential trade-offs. We conclude by proposing a research agenda to strengthen the outcomes of offsetting policies that are emerging internationally.
Sonter, L.J., Gordon, A., Archibald, C., Simmonds, J.S., Ward, M., Metzger, JP., Rhodes, J.R. & Maron, M. (2019), Offsetting impacts of development on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Ambio, 49, 892-902.