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Institutions for governing biodiversity offsetting: An analysis of rights and responsibilities

Primmer, Eeva, Varumo, Liisa, Kotilainen, Juha M., Raitanen, Elina, Kattainen, Matti, Pekkonen, Minna, Kuusela, Saija, Kullberg, Peter, Kangas, Johanna A.M., Ollikainen, Markku
Land use policy 2019 v.81 pp. 776-784
biodiversity, empirical research, ethics, governance, human rights, property rights, Finland
Offsets for compensating biodiversity loss are increasingly suggested as a system for allocating responsibilities onto those actors who contribute to the loss. As the mechanism is outlined as a new opportunity, the expectations need to be analyzed relative to the ensuing changes in rights and responsibilities over biodiversity degradation, conservation and restoration. In this paper we conduct an analysis of rights and responsibilities using literature and empirical material. Our empirical case is in Finland, where ecological compensation and biodiversity offsets represent an emerging avenue for conservation. We find that rights to conservation, property and economic activity have generally not been explicitly addressed in parallel, and that the focus has been on evaluating biodiversity loss through ecological assessment or as an ethical notion. Offsetting literature focuses on developer rights to a predictable operational environment rather than on human rights to biodiversity or the property rights of offset suppliers. At the same time, the literature on offsets analyzing the responsibilities over management, avoiding degradation and meeting societal expectations, has placed much emphasis on governance and control by authorities. These analyses result in doubts and criticism of the capacity of governance arrangements to reach the set targets. Echoing the literature, the Finnish case shows that even though the mechanism is framed as a way to place the responsibility onto developers, numerous responsibilities are expected to be taken by authorities or a yet non-existing mediating actor, while developer rights are expected to be secured and landowner rights are either mostly assumed not to change, or not addressed at all. Our study shows that the assumptions on rights and responsibilities need to be exposed to empirical analysis, to support the design of meaningful new institutional arrangements.