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April 13, 2016
Latin America’s growing economy, bright future and investment by foreign countries may have detrimental effects on the environment. With South American countries trying to take advantage of the increase in interest in the region, it is easy to see why some, disregard or pay no attention to the possible outcomes. However, several countries such as Colombia have begun to explore reducing the effects by implementing biodiversity offsetting. At the forefront of biodiversity offsetting are Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile all of whom are looking to balance economic growth with environmental protection. So far Colombia has made the biggest step with regards to biodiversity offsetting. This has resulted in the creation of legislation that requires mining, oil and gas companies to offset their impact by restoring or protecting a similar habitat elsewhere. The introduction of these efforts particularly by Colombia comes at a time when the region is prospering and concentrating its efforts on economic growth.
According to Colombia’s National Development Plan, the private sector is set to invest up to US$126 billion, an impressive 40% of the budget in order to implement the country’s development plan. The majority of this fund will go towards mining, energy expansion, housing and infrastructure in a bid to bring Colombia onto the world stage. Colombian authorities predict that with such an investment, by 2014, there will be a vast and marked improvement in paved motorways, coal production, energy generation and oil production. With the new biodiversity laws in place in Colombia, each new project will require an environmental permit and management plan in order to try and reduce and therefore manage, the environmental impacts causing minimal loss of biodiversity.
This new development strategy does however have room for improvement as currently the offsets are being made by the project developer, such as the mining company. In order to comply with the new regulation, the company has to choose a site to compensate as well as buy the land or make arrangements with the current landowner in order to establish the biodiversity offsetting plan. However, this methodology has received some criticism by NGOs, environmental organisations and local communities. The companies partaking in the new biodiversity offsetting plan do not have the experience necessary to carry out this project successfully. On top of this, the high financial costs, time delay and the need of consultation services has caused many companies to postpone their investment and search elsewhere within Latin America.
The Colombian NGO, Fundepublico, analysed the issues as to why companies were choosing to not meet the required regulations. The NGO found that there was a lack of land available to companies wishing to offset their projects and the environmental agencies consulted could not provide them with the information needed. Although Colombia has made a huge leap forward in attempting to balance her development with caring for the environment, the problem of matching offset demand with supply remains a problem yet to be solved.
Colombia needs to search for an improved system that supports timely, cost effective and efficient offsets for companies. One possible option for achieving the above goals is by stepping towards a conservation banking system similar to those in place in the United States, Australia and Germany. Companies wishing to implement a development plan would have to buy credits from the bank on condition of being granted permission to build. The money raised through conservation banking would be used to offset the biodiversity impact with the creation of biodiversity rich areas and wildlife conservation zones. Although this method also has its critics, many in the conservation industry believe that conservation banking accelerates the implementation of biodiversity offsets in the areas where it is most needed. The system also reduces the delay between the project and offset implementation as well as encouraging the interaction between companies and conservation agencies that may go on to create joint ventures.
Developing countries have the added pressure of trying to improve the infrastructure and growth of the country whilst concentrating on the environmental impacts. Whereas the likes of today’s most developed countries such as the United States and China did not necessarily place the emphasis on the environment as much as they did on growth. Today, the situation is different as these developed countries place pressure and push the developing countries to grow their economies whilst doing so with as minimal impact to the environment as possible. Although such restrictions and demands may restrict the pace at which a country like Colombia can develop, in the future the developing countries with the environment and development in mind look set to stand in a better place than the previous developed countries. It is vital to the protection of, the environment, the world and the future that development plans such as the one implemented in Colombia, forcing companies to comply with legislation are, implemented effectively for years to come.