There has been a recent discussion in the Biodiversity Professionals group on linkedin.com. The discussion was around the question whether biodiversity offsetting is just a tool for the elite to extract more wealth from natural resources.

The whole discussion is of great interest to our Society, as we are very concerned about the increasing pressure of unsustainable ‘development’ proposals on Europe’s last great places of wilderness. As commodity prices grow, so as the interest in introducing various extractive use in our untrammelled areas.

Our team is very pessimistic about biodiversity offsetting in practical terms. Why? Nothing explains this better than a few sentences from George Monbiot’s article published in The Guardian’s online edition: “But this is the way it’s going now: everything will be fungible, nothing will be valued for its own sake, place and past and love and enchantment will have no meaning. The natural world will be reduced to a column of figures.”

We believe there are at least two missing elements in the current system, which concerns our society.

  1. investors must approve that there will be no-go areas! For instance the last wilderness places must remain untouched even if commodity prices increase sky-high
  2. there is not measure yet for biodiversity management of protected areas. So how will you define what to compensate if an area is destroyed?

There is also another open question: would Biodiversity Offsetting open up any area for instance for mining if there is an overriding ‘social’ or economic interest? If the answer is yes, our reaction to offsetting is simply NO! We must accept that there are no go areas!

Supporters of biodiversity offsetting seems to assume that a forest is just a forest, and anything can be priced. Wilderness is not a place which can be re-constructed easily.

  • Can we re-construct da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? YES, but no one would suggest to put fire on Mona Lisa and replace it with a replica!
  • Can we re-construct the Eiffel tower in Paris? YES it would be relatively easy but no one would ever dare to suggest opening a mining field there.
  • Can we re-construct the biodiversity and complex ecosystems of Virunga NP or Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Site? VERY UNLIKELY! Why is there such a push for our symbolic nature places like Virunga or Oulanka? We have no answer to this question, but we need your support in order to raise the voice of protecting our last places of great wilderness areas across Europe.

Putting a price tag behind wilderness will eventually lead to the end of its protection! Not to mention that protected area managers are currently not qualified to discuss with economists about economical terms.

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Vlado Vancura is the Deputy Chairman and Director of wilderness of the European Wilderness Society and is based in Liptovsky Hradok, Slovakia.

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