Title: Draft National Biodiversity Offset Policy
Government Gazette Notice: GN 276 in GG 40733 of 31 March 2017
Commencing Date: Not yet specified

The Minister of Environmental Affairs issued her intention to publish a National Biodiversity Offset Policy. The aim of the National Biodiversity Offset Policy is to ensure that significant residual impacts of developments are remedied as required by NEMA, thereby ensuring sustainable development as required by section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

Although proposed developments that could result in significant environmental impacts on the environment are subject to ElAs in terms of NEMA, it is increasingly acknowledged that EIA as a tool cannot address the cumulative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services at landscape scale. EIA aims to find the ‘best practicable environmental option’, invariably allowing some loss of biodiversity in each instance. The additive effects of these numerous minor losses of biodiversity means that, at ecosystem or landscape scale, biodiversity continues to decline, as do our ecosystem services.

In recognition of the above challenges, interest in ways to stop the loss of biodiversity has escalated in recent years. An emerging tool in this regard is ‘biodiversity offsets’. While offsets offer clear benefits, they are not appropriate in situations where irreplaceable biodiversity would be adversely impacted. There is a concern, therefore, that unless their use is strictly controlled, they could be used as leverage to obtain authorisation for listed activities in cases where offsets should not be considered, resulting in the loss of critical biodiversity.

Implementation of the policy would ensure that due remedy is obtained for significant adverse impacts on biodiversity resulting from development. The policy would contribute to securing priority biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in perpetuity, for the benefit of both present and future generations.

Members of the public are invited to submit to the Minister within 60 days after the publication of the notice in the Gazette, written representations on, or objections to the addresses specified in the notice.

So what for my operation?
This policy should be taken into consideration with every development application that still has significant residual impact after the Mitigation Sequence has been followed in the Environmental Impact Assessment process, and should be applied taking the principles of NEMA into consideration.