Values in Biodiversity Offsetting: Contradictions in Discourse and Calculation

Friday, June 24, 2016: 4:15 PM-5:45 PM
105 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Jessica Goddard, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Ida Sognnaes, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Ekin Kurtic, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
In this paper we examine how the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) standardizes biodiversity offsets (BDOs) as a practice to “capture” biodiversity value. More specifically, we analyze their tools for biodiversity offset creation in terms of the inclusion or exclusion of the values that are invoked in the discursive justification for BDO. We ask: How do BBOP’s primary tools of cost benefit analysis and metric creation constrain what values can actually be captured? What is lost between principles (found in BBOP documents) and application (use of the suggested tools)? To answer these questions, we analyze both their discourse on value and the promoted technical operation of “capturing” these values using metrics and cost benefit analysis. We show that the techniques reveal a tension vis-à-vis the discourse of multiple values on the one hand and the aims of capturing and quantifying these values on the other hand. We find a discrepancy in the BBOP approach between an all-encompassing attitude towards values and a closed-ness of tools of quantification used in the creation of biodiversity metrics, or currencies. A dominant discourse of flexibility operates as leverage for accommodating BDOs in every context, suggesting either a discursive accommodation of critiques against quantification, or a genuine struggle to incorporate critiques about capitalizing nature. We argue that without closer attention to the tensions between value conceptualization and the actual tools of value creation, we cannot fully comprehend how biodiversity offsetting market creation operates discursively and practically.