The Conservation, Mitigation and Biodiversity Offset (COMBO) program supports countries around the world that are striving to balance biodiversity conservation with economic development. Our approach encourages governments, industry, and civil society to apply the mitigation hierarchy with rigor. The mitigation hierarchy is a sequence of four steps – Avoidance, Minimisation, Restoration and Offsets – which are regarded as international best practice for addressing impacts on biodiversity from project development.
COMBO supports uptake of the mitigation hierarchy globally by working with a wide range of stakeholders. Our current focus is to help improve mitigation practices in four countries in Africa – Guinea, Uganda, Mozambique and Madagascar – and two Asian countries – Laos and Myanmar. These countries present opportunities for the conservation of globally important biodiversity. They are also faced with the rapid development of large, potentially impacting infrastructure projects. Our goal is to reconcile necessary economic development with conservation objectives by contributing to the definition and implementation of policies aimed at no net loss (NNL) or net gain (NG) of biodiversity. We also encourage aligning these policy goals with national and internationally agreed biodiversity targets (e.g. those that will result from the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th Conference of the Parties, COP 15).
The COMBO program’s foundational phase ran from 2016 to 2020. It is now in its second phase (2021 to 2025). Its core objectives are to achieve: (1) improved national policy and its application, particularly through cross-sectoral coordination; (2) the availability of tools and guidance for better use of biodiversity data to inform impact avoidance and other mitigation actions, including biodiversity offsets; (3) the development of essential governance, financing and implementation mechanisms; and (4) the necessary capacity of governments, industry, financial institutions and civil society to deliver successful outcomes.
COMBO works with a wide range of stakeholders to achieve the program’s objectives. In the public sector, engage with policy-makers at the national level, for example in relation to environmental and social impact assessment regulations, to help shape policy and guidance that provides clarity to project proponents and others, and with local government. Our partners include environment ministries and affiliate agencies, sectoral institutions (e.g. ministries of energy and infrastructure agencies) and multi-sectoral institutions such as the Office of the Prime Minister and agencies involved in strategic environmental assessments.
Relevant industry sectors for our work include extractives, energy, agro-industry, forestry, tourism and transport sectors. and we help build the capacity of environmental and social specialist consultants hired by project developers. We work closely with development banks and private sector financial institutions to encourage application of high-quality lender standards. Conservation trust funds, amongst others, are important partners for developing innovative financing mechanisms, including in relation to offsets, and for assuring the expected conservation outcomes. We collaborate with civil society organisations because of their role in observing potential impacts on biodiversity and in holding public and private sectors to account.
Community-based organisations, communities and indigenous peoples can contribute unique perspectives on biodiversity and the benefits people derive from nature. Their participation in design of site-based activities is necessary to integrate their needs and priorities and avoid adverse impacts on communities. Conservation organisations have expertise in biodiversity measurement and conservation management which is relevant for understanding development impacts and managing offsets.