Improvements to the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme

The Biodiversity Offsets Scheme is an important part of the NSW Government’s approach to balance the need for development in NSW while also protecting our environment.

The scheme ensures biodiversity impacts are assessed using a robust and transparent methodology. When an impact on our environment cannot be avoided or lessened, then the biodiversity impact is balanced, by improving biodiversity value elsewhere. This is done through managing land for conservation under stewardship agreements.

The scheme builds on 15 years of experience in using market-based approaches to biodiversity conservation. While the scheme makes significant improvements to previous approaches, the NSW Government is committed to improving the operation of the scheme to help ensure it delivers effective environmental and economic outcomes. There is now significant momentum in work to ensure the scheme is operating effectively.

Implementing an integrated improvement and assurance program for the Scheme

An integrated improvement and assurance program for the scheme is bringing together a range of improvements, including governance, policy, assessments, market functioning and compliance and assurance. Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Mr Mike Mrdak, has been appointed as an external monitor and reporting on progress being made.

Changes made to improve the integrity of scheme, include:

  • ensuring the ecological integrity of the scheme by promoting avoidance and minimisation of impacts and better capturing data on the no net loss of biodiversity
  • revising conflict of interest protocols for staff and accredited assessors
  • ramping up the requirements for, and auditing of, accredited assessors, including new mandatory training now required for accreditation (as of March 2021) which includes comprehensive online eLearning modules and a four-day intensive training course, including a field day
  • introducing continuing professional development from June 2021 for accreditation renewals, which includes requirements for professional development activities including field work, credit analysis, assessment and reporting
  • providing a complaints policy and process for accredited assessors.

Improving scheme operations

Day-to-day operation of the scheme is also being improved. This includes:

  • training and guidelines for accredited assessors and improving the functionality and user-experience of information systems
  • improving support for local government including tailored online training modules and an induction manual for staff
  • specific guidance will support specific development types, including the renewable energy sector
  • maintaining and improving key data sets and mapping (including important habitat maps)
  • a concierge function for major projects, helping proponents navigate the offsets system
  • an enhanced helpdesk for the scheme to support local government, accredited assessors and scheme participants, and faster processing of transactions will be made possible through increased resourcing
  • improvements to support Serious and Irreversible Impacts assessment, nominations and decision-making
  • the proposed replacement of the current Biodiversity Offset Payment Calculator with new charge framework being developed by the BCT, including transparency and assurance mechanisms – this will provide greater certainty for developers who want to use payment into the Biodiversity Conservation Fund as a way of meeting offset obligations. Offset obligations can also be met by purchasing existing credits on the market or establishing new stewardship agreements.

Addressing key issues: pricing and supply

Significant new work is underway to bring forward the supply of biodiversity credits to avoid project delays and provide economic opportunities for landholders. This work includes:

  • Demand identification: analysis of the development pipeline to identify future demand for offset credits to signal the need for future supply
  • Work with major projects: to support the development of supply, improving access to information about current supply of credits and market pricing, and investigating and supporting the identification of private and public land available as part of the supply mix
  • Communicating opportunities for landholders: highlighting opportunities for landholders to generate or diversify income through the establishment of stewardship agreements to create biodiversity credits on their properties, focussed on areas where supply is most needed
  • Improved and streamlined landholder experience: working with the Biodiversity Conservation Trust (BCT) and Accredited Assessors to improve and streamline landholder experience of the scheme, including the barriers to participation
  • Investigating supply options on public land: researching and supporting the identification of public land available as part of the supply mix
  • Improved access to information: providing regular market and trend information and other tools and support to build market confidence

Monitoring, evaluating and reporting is being refreshed

A monitoring, evaluation and reporting framework for the scheme is being developed to improve transparent and consistent reporting on the scheme including conservation and economic outcomes. This will include reporting on outcomes for biodiversity and using social and economic indicators to track progress of the scheme against objectives.