Strategically targeted offsets can help to achieve positive long-term environmental results for a protected species or community
Potential impacts to protected biodiversity may be identified during the initial planning of a proposed resource development. In the first instance, avoidance and mitigation measures (e.g. soil conservation, pre-clearing surveys, establishment of alternate habitat features or translocation) are the primary strategies for managing and directly reducing the scale and intensity of the impacts on a protected species or community.
Only once all reasonable avoidance and mitigation measures have been exhausted and where a significant impact remains (i.e. significant residual impact), offsets may be required under Queensland and Commonwealth law. In Queensland, this is through the Environmental Offsets Act 2014, and for the Commonwealth, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Resource developments, particularly large-scale operations such as open cut mines or gas processing facilities, are generally constrained by the location of the target commodity (e.g. coal, oil, gas or metals) or trade access and at times the impact on biodiversity cannot be avoided or mitigated. Offsets are a way to compensate for the unavoidable (significant residual) impact and can include supplying land that holds the same or similar protected species or community that is affected by the development, research, conservation programs or a combination of these actions.
The regulatory framework for offsets also allows for companies to provide payments directly to Government for impacts to enable them to then to invest in Queensland’s biodiversity in the most strategic and effective way.
To compensate for the impact, resource companies must deliver offsets that support the conservation of the protected species or community as well as improve its condition or viability for survival. For example, if the proposed development is likely to have impacts on foraging habitat for a particular protected species, then the offset needs to create an alternate habitat, which may be of a better quality than that impacted, or the company must look to improve the state of the offset by means of active management (e.g. soil and vegetation restoration or weed and feral control). The offset must also be secured for the life of the impact.
QRC works with its member companies and Government to ensure the state and Commonwealth offsets policy frameworks and processes, first and foremost, follow an outcomes-based approach. This means that strategically targeted offsets can help to achieve positive long-term environmental results for the protected species or community. QRC also supports an offsets framework that offers flexible options for delivering offsets (e.g. financial or land-based) and is consistent and streamlined across the jurisdictions.
QRC is currently working with the Minerals Council of Australia in:
- Responding to the review of the EPBC Act;
- Seeking administrative and operational improvements to the Commonwealth offsets policy and application; and
- Encouraging the Queensland Government to have the state offset systems accredited under Commonwealth environmental law to create a single process for environmental assessment, approvals and conditioning of offsets across both jurisdictions.