Several of the COMBO+ team were fortunate to take part in the Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) alongside more than 2000 participants from 52 African countries and beyond. APAC was held in July 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda. It was a first-ever Pan-African gathering of world leaders, civil society including local communities, representatives from the private sector, academia and donors with the express aim to address challenges and drive action for the continent’s Protected and Conserved Areas.

The Congress was an excellent opportunity for us to share the work we are doing under COMBO+ and why this is so important to securing resilient landscapes, in which biodiversity and people can thrive. We took part in five parallel sessions, and benefitted from the chance to network, learn from others’ work, and explore new collaborations to strengthen our efforts.

WCS, Biotope Madagasikara and BIOFUND, three of the five COMBO+ partner organisations, presented the COMBO+ programme. We explained our overall goal and approach working with governments, the private sector and civil society across the six host countries in Africa and Asia, and we set out some of the lessons learnt so far in Madagascar and Mozambique.

COMBO+ also organised an expert panel with two conservation trust funds - BIOFUND and the Fondation pour les Aires Protégées et la Biodiversité de Madagascar (FAPBM) - the mining company Ambatovy and WCS Uganda to discuss how the development and implementation of clear, ambitious policy aimed at achieving no net loss or net gain outcomes can support countries in making progress towards national and international biodiversity targets.

The panellists emphasised the crucial role of best practice in applying the mitigation hierarchy. This tool is used in project development (e.g. for a road, a mine, a plantation), first and foremost to anticipate and avoid any impacts, then to minimise impacts and restore damage to nature, and finally to implement biodiversity offsets as a last step fully to address residual impacts from development projects. The goal is to leave affected biodiversity and people off as good or preferably better than before.  

The experts discussed how this approach, when carefully designed and implemented, can prevent impacts on priority biodiversity, support contributions to the Global Biodiversity Framework and the alignment of economic development with national biodiversity policy. They also noted the key role that conservation trust funds can play to support the establishment of best practice, to improve policy on no net loss or net gain of biodiversity and to contribute to policy implementation – for example through arranging offset financing.

COMBO+ was also invited to speak at an African Conservation Centre-organised panel on ‘Resilient landscapes: ensuring no net-loss of biodiversity due to infrastructure’, to give input into the Kigali call for action, and to present biodiversity offsets as one of several examples at a session showcasing ‘Tools for innovative financing to secure Africa’s biodiverse land and seascapes’, organised by tthe African Leadership University's School of Wildlife Conservation.

In this session, the COMBO+ Programme Director, Amrei von Hase, introduced biodiversity offsets in the context of the mitigation hierarchy, as a potential source of conservation finance. She stressed the importance of following best practice (as promoted by the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme, the IUCN’s Thematic Group on Impact Mitigation and Ecological Compensation and others), the need for strong and ambitious policy on the mitigation hierarchy including offsets – by governments and financial institutions – and to be aware that offsets, while offering conservation financing opportunities, are associated with residual damage to biodiversity that the offsets are meant to counterbalance. She also briefly presented an example which shows that ‘it can be done’ and that biodiversity offsetting can contribute towards addressing damage to nature caused by a major industrial development, while contributing private sector finance to biodiversity conservation -  even in a very challenging socio-economic context in Madagascar. The example given was the Ambatovy mine in Madagascar. This was featured in a recent independent study led by Bangor University and published in the journal Nature.