With a whole-systems assessment of all undertakings, faculty members and staff of the Ecology & Regeneration discipline at NewEarth University’s School of Socio-Economics & Ecology, endeavor to consider each element within a given environment, and orient construction towards solutions accordant with regeneration, symbiosis and ecological reverence. (featured butterfly photo courtesy of N Ash from her private collection)
assessment of potential negative impacts on site & lcap
“Habitat loss and degradation create the biggest single source of pressure on biodiversity worldwide.” (CBD, 2010, p.55).
The development of NewEarth Havens and Conscious Communities entails a change in land-use and thus running the risk of potential destruction, degradation and fragmentation of natural habitats. These are but some of potential repercussions that could occur at the landscape and regional levels, depending on location, ecosystems status, and site size. Furthermore, construction activities themselves can have negative impacts on biodiversity and habitats that can be either temporary or permanent. Additionally, permaculture choices and practices within the communities in complicity with the operation of the retreats and institutes can have additional impacts on these as well. The potential impact is largely dependent on specific habitat conditions, species, and the level of public awareness surrounding the knowledge of their natural environment. Also taken into consideration is the local culture, lifestyles and daily practices of each community.
While the first LC based assessment is made on paper, the second assessment is made in relationship to the circumstances of each site and the specific conditions of each development (e.g., land size, site type and condition, complex size and composition, socio-cultural aspects). Once again, potential impacts are assessed following a LCAP, given that developments have the potential to exacerbate the decline of biodiversity and the impoverishment of ecosystems at any of the stages of their life cycle. The proper management of environmental impacts on site starts with the right knowledge and information. Hence, information regarding all pertinent variables applicable to a site is mandatory prior to performing any environmental impact assessment that will result in adjustments in order to avoid and minimize impacts via analysis and problem solving.
biodiversity, habitats, ecosystems, and landscapes
“Biodiversity is the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part. It includes diversity within and between species and diversity of ecosystems. Diversity is a structural feature of ecosystems, and the variability among ecosystems is an element of biodiversity.” (MEA, 2003, p.10).
Hence, the biosphere’s biodiversity is present at three different levels:
(1) genetic level
(2) species level
(3) ecosystems level
As well as occurring at three systemic levels:
Impact assessments are required then to take into consideration the developments’ potential impacts on all these. The following is a list that serves as an illustration of the information required to properly analyze in-situ conditions . The analysis of this information will serve to identify potential risks and will give New Earth a portrait of potentially required adjustments that will help guide the impact assessment and identify the required level of analysis.
- Species present (e.g. fauna, flora).
- Number of species present
- Populations size
- The status of species present
- Species’ phenology and requirements
- Recovery strategies,
- Action and management plans for listed species present
- Invasive species present
- Drivers of decline (for listed species)
- Watercourses on site
- Type of ecosystem
- Status of the ecosystem
- Overall landscape composition
- Landscape at a regional level (e.g. level of fragmentation)
- Current drivers of land conversion
- Site, topography
- Site, land cover
- Regulatory framework (e.g. environmental law)
Ecosystems: Complex adaptive systems whose patterns at higher levels surge from localized interactions and selection processes acting at lower levels (Levin, 1998). An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal, and microorganism communities and the nonliving environment, interacting as a functional unit. Humans are an integral part of ecosystems (MEA, 2003. p.49)§
Species: The principal unit of evolution, the segregation of genetic variability of nature into discrete packages separated from each other by reproductive barriers that prevents the production of too great a number of disharmonious incompatible gene combinations hence ensuring superior viability (Mayr, 1996).
Genotypes: The genetic makeup of a cell, organism or individual, the genetic constitution usually with reference to a specific character (Hartl, 2001).
Composition: What biological units are present and how abundant they are (AIAI, 2005).
Structure (or pattern): how biological units are organized in time and space (AIAI, 2005).
Function: The role different biological units play in maintaining natural processes and dynamics (AIAI, 2005).
Various types of data and information sources will be used. These include both scientific and traditional. New Earth will consult scientific sources (e.g., scientific journals, proceedings, working papers), and other authoritative sources (e.g, conservation and environmental organizations). Where available and appropriate New Earth will try to access and will graciously welcome the input from local indigenous communities whose ancestral knowledge about species variation, phenology, behavior, population size, landscape features, at the required level of analysis, might help better avoid, minimize and manage potential risks while increasing possibilities of success. Some of the information required for analysis purposes is readily available, from secondary sources, while others will need to be obtained directly on site (e.g., surveys, inventories). Such as:
National conservation plans for listed species:
- Governmental agencies
- The national red list
- Local botanical gardens
- Local institutions
- Local research centers or universities
- Birdlife International
- IUCN Red List
- WDPA Protected Planet
- Sampled Red List Index for Plants
- Sampled Red List Index
environmental impact assessment
Conservation challenges cannot be properly addressed unless they are wisely acknowledged. This confirms the importance of performing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The objective of an EIA is to ensure that potential adverse impacts of developments have been anticipated, addressed and integrated into the decision making process, so that the mitigation hierarchy be rightly applied (IAIA, 1999). Governments require companies to compensate for the adverse impacts their projects and developments have on the environment, hence mitigation activities are generally the result of EIAs. A Life Cycle Environmental Impact Assessment (LCEIA) will be performed prior to starting the specific designing and planning process for the development of each community so that the LCEIA feed these processes with the objective of avoiding and minimizing all potential damage on environmental values at the source. LCEIA, as all other components of the IBCP, is guided by the same harmonious principles (e.g., integrity and transparency, no-net-loss, long-term results, life cycle, and ecosystem approach).
- Preliminary Screening: A preliminary screening starts with information gathering at the time when discussions with landowners begin, not when the NEP is ‘ready’ to start development. Due to this initial screening, New Earth starts building a portrait of the potential challenges involved while making a reasonable assumption of the appropriate size of the complex in consideration of conservation matters. This process results in a better estimate of real options and costs. Additionally, New Earth is better positioned to create awareness among landowners and to better manage the decision making process at that state. Plus NEP will be able to anticipate the magnitude and nature of organizational resources required to carry out the LCEIA and the other components of the IBCM. This will include the knowledge regarding what type of specialists should be involved with each project. This is a basic step in preparation for the LCEIA
- Screening: This is used to determine the type, scope and depth of LCEIA necessary. Biodiversity screening criteria is used in order to establish whether important biodiversity may be affected or not. Preliminary surveys are carried out at this time. The depth of the LCEIA will depend on the number, nature, range, status, rarity of biodiversity and ecosystems, and as well as on the type, magnitude, nature, duration, timing, and irreversibility of the threat. The higher the threat and the higher the rarity and value of the ecosystem, the more comprehensive and complete the assessment. Environmental values present are mapped and further evaluated. As an example, impacts on fish breeding grounds, bird nesting sites, wetlands, rare habitats, groundwater recharge areas, at risk species, and sites adjacent to protected areas will trigger an in-depth LCEIA.
- Terms of Reference : Here the terms of reference for the LCEIA are defined, which comprises the issues to be studied and methods used. Options for avoiding and minimizing risks start to be explored at this time. The output is a scoping report that address: (1) description of the specific project (e.g. footprint size, composition, community size), and the components that can potentially have an impact on biodiversity; (2) baseline conditions and anticipated trends in biodiversity; (3) analysis of risks and opportunities for biodiversity (e.g. NNL, mitigation); (4) expected changes on biodiversity (e.g. species, ecosystems, genotype), in composition, structure and function, resulting from the development project; (5) temporal, and spatial scale of influence (e.g. connectivity, cumulative effects); (6) required data and information to support decision making, and potential gaps; (7) possible measures to apply the MH to mitigate temporal and permanent impacts (e.g. losses, damage); (8) regulatory framework; (9) available guidelines that could be applied; and (10) identification environmental values of particular importance for local stakeholders.
- Main Opportunities : Here the main opportunities and risks for biodiversity, at the ecosystem, species and gene level, considering seasonal features, are taken into account; and composition, structures and functions, all in reference to the baseline situation, are identified, quantified, and analyzed in detail. The integrity of ecosystems and the essential services they provide to humanity are both taken in consideration. Among the aspects to consider are impacts on: genetic diversity of species, listed species (and the strategy recovery plans, or action plans if already developed, their risk of decline or extinction), species richness or composition, potential changes in habitat (e.g. quality, organization), ecosystems processes, services and functions and the risk of invasion by alien species. This is done by considering opportunities for betterment (e.g., habitats’ connectivity, consolidation), following an ecosystem approach and taking into consideration direct and indirect drivers of change (e.g. land conversion, vegetation removal, emissions, disturbances, genetically modified organisms, community living, socio-political, technological). Thresholds are also identified along with the cumulative and synergistic effects being taken into account (e.g. repeated impacts in space or time). The cause-effect chains are identified and the consequences of impacts on biodiversity and the costs of restoring to baseline conditions determined and explained.
- Mitigation Options and Planning: The study of alternative actions should adhere to the mitigation hierarchy: avoid (or prevent), minimize, mitigate (e.g., restore, rehabilitate), and compensate (offset). Possible actions should be prioritized in that order. Offsetting is not a license for land grabbing or destroying habitats. The LCEIA should amplify the perspective and the possibilities to enhance biodiversity. The LCAP avoid leakages – risks that NEP export or relocate problems elsewhere (Hughes & Flintan, 2001). When impacts on biodiversity are irreversible and too high, compensation is not possible and thus development should not proceed.
- Experts and Specialists : All seek collaboration with experts and specialists. In cases where potential impacts on biodiversity are significant, New Earth will have action plans peer reviewed by experts in the specific areas of concern (e.g. wetlands, migratory birds, freshwater habitats, aquatic ecosystems, endangered species).
- Decision Making : With the objective of achieving no-net-loss and preferably gaining significant benefits, options should be balanced and decision making should be based on an ecosystem approach with a long term perspective held firmly in mind. The persecutory principle should be applied in cases where there is high risk of irreversible losses of highly valued, critical, rare ecological values and when there is insufficient information available. Decisions should consider that biodiversity losses eventually translate to detrimental losses in human wellbeing. Suitable solutions are to be sought to balance trade-offs with gains obtained across time throughout the LC of the community, retreats, and institutes.
- Management Plan: Goals and objectives (e.g. specific biodiversity gains and betterment of conditions, limits of acceptable change) should be clearly stated along with action plans. The management plan is drafted to include monitoring, evaluation  and auditing whenever possible. Given that biodiversity responses to perturbations caused by anthropomorphic stressors  and New Earth developments remain uncertain, it is essential to monitor in the long term. The management plan will vary depending on in-situ conditions, impacts, mitigation activities and expected biodiversity responses but in all cases will incorporate adaptive management. Given the nature of New Earth developments (i.e. conscious communities) and privileged type of locations, participatory management is the preferred option. All these will ensure that the mitigation hierarchy is implemented effectively and the requisite goals attained.
community living and operations (future communities, retreats, & neuniversity campuses)
Important Considerations: There is need to conserve biodiversity in both natural and man-made systems since genetic diversity is being lost in both natural ecosystems and man-systems for crop and livestock production (CBD, 2010). While the domestication of wild populations is not recommended under industrial operations due to well known problems (e.g., parasite management and contamination of wild populations by managed bees from farming operations), it is possible to expand crop’s diversity with the use of wildlife friendly food production systems. An example of this would be the use of permaculture, working to incorporate suitable native species that will serve the community and increase ecosystem’s resilience. An alignment is required between permaculture practices and conservation also to avoid the unintentional introduction of species potentially invasive to the local environment.
Community-Based Biodiversity Conservation (CBBC) is necessary since inhabitants and operators at each venue can unintentionally cause adverse impacts on biodiversity throughout time. There is need to increase awareness while building capacity to ensure that the community is keenly aware of the local natural environment. It is essential that community occupants are familiarized with the local fauna and flora in order to sustainably harvest any natural resources and to participate in stewardship actions aimed at improving natural biodiversity on site. This is particularly important when most inhabitants come from urban environments. This will foster peoples’ connection with the natural world, serving to deeply enrich their lives. Community Based, Adaptative Participatory Management (CBAPM) is implemented thanks to NEU, ensuring that NEP’s communities count with the right amount of information and knowledge to actively participate in the development of their communities across time (e.g. educating kids and adults, building capacity).
the mitigation hierarchy
The MH is a sequence of activities addressing all impacts aimed at ensuring no net losses while preferably striving for a net gain of biodiversity. As with any sequence, the order is of great significance. Impacts with the potential of adversely affecting biodiversity irreversibly in combination with impacts on land with rare high environmental values should be avoided altogether. If this is the case, the project should not proceed. Lesser impacts should be minimized to the highest degree possible, hence alternative solutions should be sought to minimize any losses. Once this is accomplished, the remaining impacts should be reversed; meaning biodiversity on land should be restored to its original state or bettered. Finally, any impact that couldn’t be avoided, minimized or mitigated should be effectively offset. The offset must be commensurate among others to the number, nature, range, status, and rarity of the environmental values being impacted while taking into consideration any opportunities for enhancement. Potential impacts can be addressed throughout the development’s life cycle by applying the MH.
Avoidance: Measures taken to avoid creating impacts from the outset, such as careful spatial or temporal placement of elements of infrastructure in order to completely avoid impacts on certain components of biodiversity.
Minimization: Measures taken to reduce the duration, intensity and/or extent of impacts (including direct, indirect and cumulative impacts, as appropriate) that cannot be completely avoided, as far as is practically feasible.
Rehabilitation/restoration: Measures taken to rehabilitate degraded ecosystems or restore cleared ecosystems following exposure to impacts that cannot be completely avoided and/ or minimized.
Offset: Measures taken to compensate for any residually significant and adverse impacts that cannot be avoided, minimized and /or rehabilitated or restored in order to achieve no net loss or a net gain of biodiversity. Offsets can take the form of positive management interventions such as restoration of degraded habitat, arrested degradation or averted risk thus protecting areas where there is imminent or projected loss of biodiversity” (The BBOP, 2012, p.7).
additional principles for offsets
For offsets, as for any other components of the IBCP’s, the same principles are followed. However, offsets require adherence to an additional set of principles, which are described below:
- Offset limits: Areas with high environmental values, highly vulnerable, and hosting listed species are considered irreplaceable and hence cannot be offset. These should be protected at all costs.
- No-net-loss: Offsets are designed and implemented to achieve measurable conservation outcomes expected to result in no net loss and preferably in a net gain of biodiversity.
- Adhesion to the mitigation hierarchy: Offset of impacts on biodiversity and other environmental values is applied solely for residual adverse impacts, only after New Earth has avoided, minimized and mitigated any possible impacts on-site. Thence, offsetting is used as the last recourse. An offset ratio (i.e. compensation ratio) is used specifically to each project according with in-situ conditions, nature and magnitude of impacts (e.g., specific land conversion for each area).
- Offsetting by principle: After mindful application of the mitigation hierarchy (e.g., after careful design and planning of each development, and construction on-site), offsetting by principle is applied to all built areas, which are by principle net losses of natural habitat. An offsetting ratio is used according to each site’s specific situation.
- Compensation ratio : An Offset Compensation Ratio (OR) is used to offset all adverse impacts comprising of factors such as: land’s environmental values, number and status of species present, vulnerability, habitat type (i.e. rarity), site’s conditions and defensibility, landscape context , nature and magnitude of impacts and the gap in land use conversion; all while following an ecosystem approach.
A simplified method consistent with NNL for calculating the compensation ratio that New Earth will apply to offset impact and scale its complexes (i.e., community, retreat, NEU model) will be developed specifically for New Earth based upon the factors listed above. [This will be supported by applying the best-known practices and available science (e.g., landscape equivalency analysis, robustly fair offset ratios, habitat equivalency analysis) while garnering the best available data from recognized resources.] Scientific based compensation ratios should depend on risks, ecosystems and type of offset project (Carroll et al., 2008). There fore, the area disturbed, the type of disturbance (e.g. specific change in land use), its duration (e.g., limited to construction work, or permanent) and magnitude will all be considered for offsetting purposes. The OR will serve to determine the maximum area built on a site thus the maximum change in land use (e.g., built areas, permaculture areas). Since New Earth is a project for the people by the people, there are various ways New Earth could offset; for instance, it could give the opportunity to conscious people to donate land with the sole purpose of nurturing and protecting it. It could also receive land with the purpose of restoring it to a pristine state. Based on the IBCP’s and offset’s principles described herein, New Earth has to develop the best-offset solution that will deliver the highest biodiversity gains. This development must be in complete alignment with its strategic planning, core principles and demonstrated values.
In the case where the biodiversity on site is highly important, rare, and irreplaceable, it is critical to avoid any impacts to the maximum extent possible. All impacts should be limited in relation to the total land area. Furthermore, any offset should be a multiplier of the impact in direct accordance with the same factors. In the case where the land contains environmental values that are low and largely distributed the limitations to build on that land is reduced and the offset ratio lowered. This is in view of the fact that impacts will not translate into irremediable critical losses of biodiversity. That being said, the project should still continue to avoid any negative impacts to the highest degree possible. As a result, New Earth complexes in areas where biodiversity and environmental values are highly valuable will be smaller in size, in direct proportion to the land area available in comparison to the complexes located in areas where biodiversity is low and highly distributed in the region. In the case where land is located in degraded areas (e.g., industrial agricultural zones, deforested areas) where New Earth will restore the site partially or completely and where conservation gains are evident, the offset ratio will be the lowest; unless, the restoration and protection of more land could help increase the resilience of habitats at a larger scale or the interconnectivity between habitats (e.g., green corridors). This activity ensures that New Earth adheres to its goal to positively affect the resilience of ecosystems at the highest level possible (e.g., regional).
 The conditions where genetic resources exist within ecosystems and natural habitats (CBD, Art. 2).
 “Without monitoring of the species/ecological communities that a project may be seeking to protect or to enhance the sustainable use of, there can be little reliable evidence to show the impact of such activities” (Smith, Hughes, & Swiderska, 1998, p.11).
 For instance, climate change is changing already the phenology of different species and creating a mismatch between species that depend on each other for survival (e.g., plants and pollinators).
 Land with high environmental values (e.g., Amazon forest) is offset at a higher ratio (e.g. 5X), than land with low environmental values (e.g., desert, land where industrial farming has been practiced, deforested areas), which is offset at a lower ratio (e.g. 1X). Land exposed to higher level of pressure (e.g., for land use changes, exploitation) will require a higher ratio, than land exposed to less level of human pressure (e.g. agricultural zoning with stringent regulation limiting potential conversion).
 This should include a full range of biological, social and cultural values of biodiversity.
Originally shared in the Free Library @ New Earth University