UDIA WA welcomes the EPA’s release yesterday of public advice setting out guiding values for proponents and recommended priorities for government to promote early and elective adoption of innovative approaches to regional scale environmental offsets.

The need for a strategic approach to offsets is something that UDIA WA has been strongly advocating for to overcome challenges of the current piecemeal approach, including in terms of securing appropriate like-for-like offsets and supporting better environmental outcomes at a regional scale.  It is acknowledged that the development of offset policy is evolving and while this public advice is not fully responding to this, we see this guidance by the EPA as a step in the right direction.

The EPA’s Public Advice is now live and can be utilised on a voluntary basis for proponents wanting to consider strategies to offset impacts of their project. The advice contains guiding values, recommended priorities for government and implementation guidance.

Guiding Values

The EPA has provided seven guiding values for approaching offsets at a regional scale as summarised below:

  1. Restoration – In addition to protecting existing high quality environmental value, offsets should identify opportunities to enhance and restore environmental value which can ensure nature positive outcomes on a regional scale.
  2. Regional scale management – Environmental offsets should be consistent with new regional plans, reserve management plans, recovery plans, strategic programs and other regional level protection instruments. The immediate, short, medium and long term-term needs of a region should be considered and environmental offsets designed to ensure benefits across these time scales.
  3. Resilient systems – Offsets should be designed to build and maintain resilience in ecological functions and ecosystems services.
  4. Expanding scientific knowledge – Offsets should contribute to environmental knowledge of a region including performance monitoring, evaluation and reporting of the environmental outcomes in a way which expands scientific knowledge.
  5. Like for like and similar, values – Whilst offsets usually aim to replace an environmental value/ecosystem with another of same value/service, restoration offsets which meet science-based completion criteria can also have an environmental benefit. Like-for-similar can be considered where a regional environmental need and benefit can be demonstrated.
  6. Connectedness – Offsets which demonstrate connectedness with the physical/ecological function being impacted should be prioritised, specifically those within the same region which support the same habitat and function, however offsets in a neighbouring region can be considered where the beneficial connectivity of the offset can be demonstrated.
  7. Co-benefits for social surroundings – Offsets which provide greater co-benefits for the same environmental outcome should be a priority, these should be developed with relevant stakeholders to ensure co-benefits are available.

The EPA has also provided seven recommended priorities for government to facilitate the implementation of effective environmental offsets. These include, but are not limited to:

  • ensuring land availability and security to prioritise and secure tenure for offsets,
  • developing regional plans and recovery plans which ensure offsets are logically and strategically located in areas of greatest regional environmental benefit and do not lead to perverse environmental outcomes like inadvertently increasing fragmentation;
  • undertaking holistic values mapping (of ecological values, functions, and performance) for greater understanding of environmental protection needs and opportunities; and
  • defining the roles in delivering outcomes for both Government and proponents to ensure responsibility.

This will help encourage and facilitate early and elective adoption of regional scale offsets.

UDIA WA has been calling on the State Government, including through our 2024-25 pre-Budget Submission, to resource the development of a strategic plan and fund for offsets and rehabilitation, particularly for the Swan Coastal Plain.  This would establish strategic expectations around the conversation outcomes for TECs like Tuart and Banksia Woodland, as well as species such as black cockatoos, and the mechanisms proposed to do this, and would need to dovetail with regional planning and include a plan for and commitment to the purchase, rehabilitation, and management of strategic sites. 

Seeking for improve the approach to offsets will continue to be a focus for our Environment Committee.

What does this mean?

The current approach to environmental offsets remains in place and proponents wanting to continue to utilise the framework as previously done, are able to do so. This Advice opens the possibility of thinking and action around regional scale approaches and outcomes to environmental offsets.  It is intended as guidance and is voluntary. There will be no separate frameworks, policies, guidelines, or calculators as part of this process.

The EPA will likely account for the guiding Values in making an assessment as part of Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA). Key principles of existing Commonwealth and State policies will remain relevant to considering offsets at a regional scale.

Please reach out to CEO Tanya Steinbeck or Executive Director of Strategy & Policy Sarah Macaulay with any queries.

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