Biodiversity offsetting in SA
This is the final issue on the introduction to Biodiversity Offsetting and gives a summary of the draft legislation that was issued on 31 March 2017. The legislation will become a part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process once it has been accepted. In summary, the legislation addresses the following aspects:
1) When should offsets be considered? Basically when residual impacts (after mitigation has been implemented) with a rating of “medium” or “high” is identified in the EIA. The focus will be to find a “like for like” area of the same ecosystem type. In exceptional cases an offset area of greater conservation significance (“trading up”) will be considered.
2) General procedural requirements. In short, the legislation will require that the mitigation hierarchy, as explained in our first issue of this series, is adhered to.
3) Designing and locating and offset. The consultant responsible for conducting the EIA will determine the type, size and optimum location for the offset using biodiversity targets as provided by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). It will then be investigated and adjudicated by the relevant environmental authority responsible for the area. Once it has been approved an Offset Agreement and Offset Management Programme will be put in place.
4) Securing the offset. Offsets can be secured through land donation, conservation servitude agreements or purchase of the land.
5) Requirement of an Offset Report. An Offset Report will be included in the EIA as a Specialist Study specifically describing how the above requirements will be achieved.
A study conducted in 2015 looked at five different case studies to determine what kind of implementation approach will be most successful. The case study that performed best was a case that involved construction of a zinc mine in the Northern Cape Province. The applicant was keen to pursue the mining project due to the high mineral deposits and the recent closure of other similar mines in the area. The government was also keen on the project as a result of the need for employment opportunities in the area. The project was however located in an area with very high biodiversity. After making all efforts to redesign infrastructure layout and planning to accommodate sensitive areas and after relocating approximately 15 000 plant specimens of sensitive species, the residual impact was still high and all the parties involved agreed to investigate the possibility of an offset. The biodiversity offset study was done in parallel with the EIA process. All the key stakeholders were involved in the process and, since it was part of the EIA process, it formed part of the official Public Participation Process so that all the Interested and Affected Parties were also involved throughout the design of the offset. The offset agreement was eventually signed in 2014 by the mining company and the relevant environmental authority. It specified that the mining company will secure properties and that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will be appointed to audit the implementation of the offset for five years. Although the ultimate success of the offset will only be measured in its sustainability, it is definitely valuable to look at the way the offset was designed and implemented. The process was transparent and it formed part of the application from early stages. The mitigation hierarchy was also thoroughly exhausted before the offset was considered.
In conclusion I truly believe that Biodiversity Offsetting could be extremely beneficial to biodiversity conservation in South Africa and could even steer us into an entire modern way of looking at conservation for the future. I am currently busy with my PhD focussing on identifying an optimal conservation area for a Grassland National Park. A major tool in the success of the conservation of this area will be the implementation of Biodiversity Offsetting. This is an exciting direction that environmental legislation in South Africa is taking. I also believe that this is an essential part of the future of conservation and environmental management and Bucandi is positioning itself to be at the critical forefront of this pioneering endeavour.