On track to achieve no net loss of forest at Madagascar’s biggest mine

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7 March 2022

Meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires reconciling development with biodiversity conservation. Governments and lenders increasingly call for major industrial developments to offset unavoidable biodiversity loss but there are few robust evaluations of whether offset interventions ensure no net loss of biodiversity. We focus on the biodiversity offsets associated with the high-profile Ambatovy mine in Madagascar and evaluate their effectiveness at delivering no net loss of forest. As part of their efforts to mitigate biodiversity loss, Ambatovy compensate for forest clearance at the mine site by slowing deforestation driven by small-scale agriculture elsewhere. Using a range of methods, including extensive robustness checks exploring 116 alternative model specifications, we show that the offsets are on track to avert as much deforestation as was caused by the mine. This encouraging result shows that biodiversity offsetting can contribute towards mitigating environmental damage from a major industrial development, even within a weak state, but there remain important caveats with broad application. Our approach could serve as a template to facilitate other evaluations and so build a stronger evidence-base of the effectiveness of no net loss interventions.