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Biodiversity Net Gain: UK leads way to better measurement of global construction biodiversity impact

Dec 21, 2023 | Blog, Decarbonization News

The UK’s mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain is leading the move toward global biodiversity impact measurement in construction.

Understanding biodiversity in global construction

According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) there are five main drivers of global biodiversity loss: 

  • Changes in land use
  • Direct exploitation
  • Climate change 
  • Pollution
  • Invasion of alien species

All but invasion of alien species can be directly attributed to construction.

Policies across the world are coming into force to measure and report contributions to these drivers. Most notable are the Environment Act 2021 and the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). Additionally, voluntary disclosure frameworks such as Science Based Targets for Nature (SBTN) and the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) are gaining early adoption.

Biodiversity Net Gain in the UK

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a newly established set of rules from the UK Government aimed at developers, with the goal of safeguarding and enhancing natural habitats amidst the landscape of development. By adhering to the BNG requirements, developers will be able to achieve a measurable increase, or ‘net gain,’ in biodiversity compared to the state before development. This approach ensures that the impact of development on natural habitats is offset, fostering more robust and diverse ecosystems.

What is the mandate for developers in England?

Specifically in England, Biodiversity Net Gain will become a mandatory requirement for developers from February 12, 2024. They will be legally obligated to deliver a net gain of 10% biodiversity when constructing new housing, industrial, or commercial developments – meaning that the resulting habitat quality should surpass that which existed before the development.

For projects that are not considered a major development, Biodiversity Net Gain for small sites becomes mandatory from April 2024, while Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects are expected to comply by late 2025.

Outside of England, the Scottish government has conducted research into the feasibility of applying the BNG to Scotland.

Why it matters

Biodiversity Net Gain, introduced through the Environment Act, will play a pivotal role in meeting the UK’s target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. It  will ensure future developments benefit both wildlife and people, and aims to create nature-rich environments while addressing the need for new homes and infrastructure.

Meeting the 10% goal for Biodiversity Net Gain

Developers have three options to achieve the mandated 10% Biodiversity Net Gain, which must be followed in order according to the biodiversity gain hierarchy: 

  1. Enhancing and restoring biodiversity on-site 
  2. Mix of on-site and off-site solutions
  3. Purchasing statutory biodiversity credits from the government as a last resort

Biodiversity in the context of BNG, is measured in standardized biodiversity units, which are influenced by factors such as habitat size, quality, and location. These units can be lost through development but can also be generated through efforts to create and enhance habitats.

One Click LCA supporting biodiversity measurement and impact

One Click LCA is implementing critical tool developments within the LCA platform, launching in early 2024, to support the rising need for global biodiversity measurement, and the specific requirement for developers in the UK to adhere to Biodiversity Net Gain. It is also a significant step toward One Click LCA’s mission to become the definitive, end-to-end sustainability software platform for construction and manufacturing.

Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures biodiversity impact measurement

Credit: Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD)

The tools in development aim to support developers across the spectrum of biodiversity impact measurement (above.) 

To enable those aiming to estimate biodiversity impact without exact material source location data, One Click LCA is developing the biodiversity stress from supply chain update. This update to the LCA platform provides an estimate of impacts on biodiversity from environmental pressures that occur throughout the supply chain, for any organization measuring the biodiversity impact of their production and distribution logistics. The impacts are categorized by which ‘realm’ they affect: terrestrial, freshwater, and marine. The tool will provide the first step in measuring biodiversity impacts by highlighting hotspots in the supply chain using existing LCA data.

Second, One Click LCA is developing a new Biodiversity Net Gain tool in collaboration with the UK Habitat Classification (UKHab Ltd), compliant with the statutory biodiversity metric, to enable UK customers to streamline the process for regulatory or voluntary biodiversity improvements. 

The tool works by measuring habitats (a categorization of a physical area based on characteristics such as climate, plant species, etc.) before and after a development, to calculate the change in relative ‘value.’ It then uses multipliers to highlight positive actions relating to materials and practices, to encourage retention of existing habitats and creation of new ones.

Summary

As Biodiversity Net Gain becomes a legal requirement in England, developers and stakeholders must adapt to the changing landscape of environmental responsibility. The introduction of tools like those being developed by One Click LCA signifies a commitment to supporting this transition, providing efficient and effective solutions for achieving and reporting Biodiversity Net Gain in the built environment.

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