The transition from no net loss to a net gain of biodiversity is far from trivial

The objectives of No Net Loss and Net Gain have emerged as key principles in conservation policy. Both give rise to mechanisms by which certain unavoidable biodiversity losses associated with development are quantified, and compensated with comparable gains (e.g. habitat restoration). The former seeks a neutral outcome for biodiversity after losses and gains are accounted for, and the latter seeks an improved outcome. Policy-makers often assume that the transition from one to the other is straightforward and essentially a question of the amount of compensation provided. Consequently, companies increasingly favour Net Gain type commitments, and financial institutions make lending conditional on either objective, depending on the habitat involved. We contend, however, that achieving Net Gain is fundamentally different to achieving No Net Loss, and moving from one to the other is less trivial than is widely realized. Our contention is based on four arguments: (?) the two principles represent different underlying conservation philosophies; (?) ecological uncertainties make it difficult to know where the threshold betweenNo Net Loss and Net Gain lies; (?) different frames of reference are more or less appropriate in evaluating the ecological outcomes, depending on the principle chosen; and (?) stakeholder expectations differ considerably under the two principles. In exploring these arguments we hope to support policymakers in choosing the more appropriate of the two objectives. We suggest that financial institutions should provide greater clarity regarding the explicit requirements for each principle. We conclude by highlighting questions of relevance to this topic that would benefit from focused research.