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‘Absolutely damning’ review finds offsets scheme fails to protect NSW environment | ambient

A NSW government environmental offsets scheme fails to protect some of the state’s most endangered species and ecosystems and is fraught with problems of integrity and transparency, according to a review by the state’s auditor general.

the reportdescribed as “absolutely damning” by conservationists, it caused the opposition and crusading MPs to call for a review of the scheme.

The release of the report follows a lengthy Guardian Australia report that revealed serious flaws and conflict of interest concerns in the state’s environmental compensation system, prompting multiple investigations.

The auditor general found that the government did not adequately design the state’s biodiversity market, which allows landowners to establish a conservation agreement on their property.

That deal generates credits that are then sold on a market as environmental offsets intended to offset environmental destruction caused by development elsewhere.

It follows the Albanian government which announced on Friday that it planned to develop a national biodiversity market.

The audit found that the NSW Environment and Planning Department had not properly designed the core elements of the scheme and had no strategy for developing a biodiversity market or ensuring it delivered the required environmental results.

The report said there was a severe shortage of credits needed to offset the loss of some ecosystems, plants and animals under pressure to enable development in the state, including $112 billion in infrastructure projects.

He said the government has not resolved concerns about the integrity, transparency and sustainability of the scheme.

NSW Nature Conservation Council chief executive Jacqui Mumford said the report was “absolutely damning” and highlighted the “failure on almost every count”.

“After this report, offsets should only be used as an absolute last resort,” he said. “Currently, they are spread like candy.”

Mumford said offset schemes reduced nature to a “bunch of financial formulas” that didn’t capture the true value of unique bushland and were fast disappearing.

The audit office made several recommendations, including improving governance, monitoring offset sites to ensure they provide environmental benefits, and annual reporting on whether offset obligations are being met.

Opposition environmental spokeswoman Penny Sharpe said the report revealed “the failings of NSW’s biodiversity offset scheme”.

“It is a scheme that cannot serve its purpose and will lead to the extinction of 50% of NSW’s native animals and plants if not substantially reformed,” he said.

Sharpe said an upper house investigation sparked by the Guardian Australia reports had uncovered similar problems and would report back soon. “The NSW government must urgently outline how it will deal with the findings,” he said.

Greens environmental spokeswoman Sue Higginson said the report made clear that the biodiversity gains being achieved through the scheme were not enough compared to the losses from development.

“The report is absolutely damning and confirms that we are facing an environmental crisis, and that the government’s current policy is not working and is contributing significantly to it,” he said.

Independent MLC Justin Field said the government needed to set clear “red lines” around where biodiversity offsetting could be used.

He called for a moratorium on a policy that allows developers to pay into a fund managed by the biodiversity conservation trust instead of buying credits directly from the market. The trust then purchases offsets on behalf of the developers.

The audit found that the compensation obligations assumed by the trust increased each year and there was a risk that the fund would not have enough to buy the necessary compensations.

In other findings, the auditor general said that most credits available in the market – outside of those in pressured habitats – had never been traded at all, the government did not have a complete public registry of credits and their transaction histories, and had not developed regulations for brokers working within the scheme.

The report said 90% of offset sites under the scheme were not being monitored to ensure required environmental benefits were being delivered.

The report found that the government failed to adequately monitor conflicts of interest between consultants and brokers working on the plan. It also found that there were “inadequate safeguards” to mitigate the potential for conflicts arising from the biodiversity conservation trust’s multiple roles in managing the scheme and buying credits on behalf of developers.

He noted that a conflict-of-interest protocol for the scheme as a whole was not developed until 2021, four years after it began.

Its introduction came after serious conflict of interest issues were discovered.

Officials working on conservation issues have now been barred from having a financial interest in the scheme.

Responding to the report, Environment Minister James Griffin said he had focused on making sure the scheme was “easier to get involved with, bring greater coherence to the way it is applied to local development and stimulate the supply of biodiversity credits at efficient prices”. .

“The government is committed to improving the operation of the scheme to ensure it delivers effective environmental and economic results,” he said.


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