Tracking the origins and development of biodiversity offsetting in academic research and its implications for conservation: A review

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6 May 2017

Spurred by recent initiatives aimed at achieving No Net Loss of biodiversity, the concept of biodiversity offsetting (henceforth 130) is growing in popularity in the political, business, conservation and academic arenas. Promising to make economic development compatible with biodiversity conservation, BO mechanisms appear as the new tool for biodiversity conservation, and they are increasingly integrated into agendas and strategies to biodiversity. The concept has also become popular with scholars but it is still highly debated in particular its ecological consequences. Moreover, this recent enthusiasm for BO has led to confusion especially on its emergence and development in the academic sphere, and its implications for conservation. This article addresses these issues. It examines the origins, characteristics and dynamics of BO in academic output and highlights the main drivers of its development, to finally conclude on its implications for conservation practice. We carried out a systematic literature review based on thorough scientometric analyses of the scientific literature on BO recorded in the Web of Science database over the past three decades (1984-2014). Through the analysis of 477 articles we identified three stages in the development of the topic in academia, and highlighted the influence of specific countries, authors, research areas and articles. We found that non-academic institutions were particularly influential, notably environmental non-governmental organizations. Furthermore, we identified a major change in the past decade in the topics and lexicon related to BO, which has moved from ecologically-driven approaches to an economic and market lexicon. Overall, this review highlights the use of an economic rhetoric to frame the BO discourse resulting from political influence rather than an actual scientific progress in ecological or economic sciences. This trend seems aligned with a new movement in conservation aimed at using economic approaches to justify and achieve conservation goals. Caught in a strong normative current and supported by a specific view of nature, we argue that BO is not a neutral concept for conservation practice. We therefore advocate the wise and careful use of this mechanism in practice, and further research be carried out to examine the theoretical and practical dimensions of BO, and the ethical implications underlying its development. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.