Compensating for ecological harm

Economic development can have adverse effects on the natural environment. Nowadays, many developments involve mitigating negative effects or compensating for them by ‘trading’ a positive outcome in return for permission to proceed.

But how effective are these compensatory efforts in New Zealand?

Answer: oftentimes, not very, according to one of the talks at the recent New Zealand Plant Conservation Network conference.

Video of Marie Brown’s conference talk.

Blog post on the NZPCN conference.

This is particularly topical as the Environment Court ponders its final decision about the proposal for a mine on the Denniston plateau. The Court has said “much will ultimately turn on whether appropriate conditions can be worked out.” Marie’s talk is thought provoking in this context.

Within the site of the proposed mine at Denniston.  Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Within the site of the proposed mine at Denniston. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Perhaps some of the concern about the effectiveness of mitigation/compensatory efforts would be alleviated if positive outcomes were achieved before the negative activity commenced. For instance, if new and sustainable populations of rare plants and animals could be successfully established at other suitable sites, there should be less concern about their elimination at the development site.

Money spent on upfront mitigation/compensation could even be more cost-effective than lengthy legal battles.

This assumes, however, that suitable and relevant mitigation/compensation is actually achievable. It may not be for some of the populations that would be affected by the Denniston mine, at least from my understanding of them, but I would like to be proved wrong in this respect.

What do you think? Develop/destroy and then attempt to fix, or develop/destroy only after the compensatory measures have been shown to work?

One Response

  1. Leon Perrie

    Something relevant from the High Court, which appears to be suggesting that, in the case of Denniston, doing some work on unrelated species at a distant site is not to be regarded as mitigating ‘compensation’ for the impact on the species at Denniston:


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