Taming a wicked problem: resolving controversies in Biodiversity offsetting

The rising popularity of biodiversity offsetting as a tool for balancing biodiversity losses from development with equivalent gains elsewhere has sparked debate on many fronts. The fundamental questions are the following: Is offsetting good, bad, or at least better than the status quo for biodiversity conservation outcomes, and what do we need to know to decide? We present a concise synthesis of the most contentious issues related to biodiversity offsetting, categorized as ethical, social, technical, or governance challenges. In each case, we discuss avenues for reducing disagreement over these issues and identify those that are likely to remain unresolved. We argue that there are many risks associated with the unscrutinized expansion of offset policy. Nevertheless, governments are increasingly adopting offset policies, so working rapidly to clarify and— where possible—to resolve these issues is essential.