Whilst it might seem that both developers and ecologists are still getting to grips with Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) and offsetting, it is clear that the direction of policy travel in several territories around the world is towards utilising a wider Environmental Net Gain (ENG) approach.
In England, the 25-Year Environment Plan committed the Government to exploring the potential for a wider environmental net gain: “In future, we want to expand the net gain approaches used for biodiversity to include wider natural capital benefits, such as flood protection, recreation and improved water and air quality. Those approaches will sit alongside existing regulations that protect our most threatened or valuable habitats and species. They will enable local planning authorities to target environmental enhancements that are needed most in their areas and give flexibility to developers in providing them. We will explore the ways in which new data, tools and strategies can support development that brings wider environmental improvement.”
This has recently been reinforced by the Natural Capital Committee: “The government should urgently replace biodiversity net gain with environmental net gain, ensuring this applies to all nationally significant infrastructure and the marine environment. Delivery of net zero will become incredibly difficult, if not impossible, without environmental net gain – it is the only approach that considers the impact on the terrestrial and marine ecosystems, including biocarbon stocks.”
This environmental enhancement approach, although not necessarily using the same name, is also being progressed by the devolved governments and in Ireland.
In light of the emerging framework for the CBD COP15 on Biological Diversity, the issue of ENG is likely to rise in prominence in many countries around the world. However, whilst it is widely recognised that an approach that includes a wider natural capital approach is desirable, there is currently no agreed methodology for assessment. A whole range of factors can be assessed, but it is hard to understand how many ecosystem services could be ‘offset’. It is also important to treat with caution any approach that sees different ecosystem services as ‘tradable’.
CIEEM, whilst cautiously welcoming the wider focus on natural capital, is keen that the ground that has been gained on BNG is not lost. Understanding ENG is a genuinely open question at present and we are advised that governments are listening. We want to take advantage of this, and believe that an entirely new paradigm is needed.
CIEEM has established an Environmental Net Gain Task Group to take forward this issue.
Specifically, we are looking to:
- Undertake a review of any approaches to ENG and offsetting worldwide
- Review the methodologies available for natural capital and ecosystem service assessments worldwide
- Produce guidelines for ENG of international relevance
- Input into ENG policy for the UK and Ireland
Members of the Task Group:
- Steph Wray (Chair)
- Tom Butterworth
- Rory Canavan
- Tanya Ferry
- Joe Franklin
- Martina Girvan
- Rob Harrison
- David Hill
- Peter Shepherd
- Claire Wansbury
- Zoe Webb