We have laws in place to protect our animals, plants, habitats and places. Your actions might have adverse residual impacts on them. Using environmental offsets can balance such impacts. Offsets are only an option after you've tried to avoid or mitigate any impacts. Offsets do not make an unacceptable impact acceptable.
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), you must consider if your proposal could impact nationally significant (protected) animals, plants, habitats or places. We call these things 'protected matters'.
Learn more about the EPBC Act.
If your action is likely to have a significant impact on a protected matter, you need to tell us about your strategies to address this impact as part of the assessment process.
If you can't avoid the environmental impact, you need try and mitigate (reduce) it. If you can't do this, you'll have to offset any residual (remaining) impact.
Environmental offsets compensate for any remaining impacts of your action. They make up for impacts you can't avoid or mitigate (reduce).
If you need to provide an offset, it must relate directly to the environmental impact of your project. For example, suppose your action will affect a protected animal's foraging habitat. In that case, you need to create, improve, protect or manage that same animal's foraging habitat on your offset site.
There are different types of offsets, including:
- direct, such as catch and release, breeding, or threat abatement programs
- indirect, such as research or education programs
The information on this page is for general purposes only. Please read our Environmental Offset Policy for more specific detail.
During assessment, we look at how suitable your proposed offsets are and whether they meet our requirements.
Our policy gives more information about environmental offsets, including:
- what they are
- their role under the EPBC Act.
The most common offset type are land-based direct offsets. This usually means improving the existing habitat of a protected matter.
In most cases, the location of the offset site will be as close to the impact site as possible. If your proposed offset site needs to be further away, you'll need to demonstrate how it will achieve a conservation benefit for the protected matter.
You may need to take a flexible approach with your proposed offset strategy and management. We'll work with you to ensure that you achieve the conservation benefit, and that the process is consistent and transparent.
Among other things, offsets must:
- be efficient, effective, timely, transparent, scientifically robust and reasonable
- have clear governance arrangements, including being able to be readily measured, monitored, audited and enforced
- balance and reduce the residual significant environmental impacts of your action.
Check the policy to see all the requirements.
We recommend you talk to your assessment officer about offset proposals early on in the process.
To understand our offset process and how the policy operates, read How to Use the Assessment Guide
The policy also comes with our Offset Assessment Guide. This spreadsheet leads you through the process we use internally to work out impacts and suitable offsets. We've assumed a working knowledge of the referrals and assessment process.
To use it, you'll need to enable macros in your settings.
If the Environment minister, or their delegate, approves your action, the offsets in your plan will be a condition of that approval.
Offsets need to be in place as long as there is an environmental impact of your action.
We actively monitor and audit actions approved under the EPBC Act. This includes:
- site inspections
- desktop audits, of such things as satellite photos
- random audits
- consulting with approval holders
- annual compliance reviews.
As part of our monitoring program, you will need to give us information about how you are managing the offset. For example
- flora and fauna survey data
- water quality data
- rates of breeding success
- photos and images.
If you breach any conditions of your approval, you may face legal action. Read more about compliance and monitoring.
For most referred projects, we'll explore and finalise offsetting options either during the assessment process or after approval.
Because of this, in many cases, the offset will only begin to make up for any residual adverse impacts after the action has already happened.
An advanced offset, however, is put in place and starts to generate environmental benefits before or in advance of the action. This means the environmental benefit is obtained before the impact.
This may reduce your overall offsetting requirements.
Advanced offsets must meet all of the following criteria:
- they're put in place before an impact happens
- they benefit the protected matter by reducing uncertainty and time delays
- they help to reduce the costs of offsetting for a particular action.
Using advanced offsets means there is a supply of offsets for future use, transfer or sale.
Please refer to the offset policy to work out if an advanced offset is suitable.
An advanced offset must:
- be strictly planned and monitored
- show a conservation benefit for the protected matter in addition to any existing obligations.
For example, you may choose to protect a parcel of land and improve habitat value for a particular species.
If we've approved this as an advanced offset, and you can show this has achieved an ecological gain, you may use this as an offset if any future action impacts the same species.
Advanced offsetting has strong environmental benefits. But under the EPBC Act, we can only consider an offset proposal for a particular project during our later-stage assessment and approval process.
We can't take offset proposals or other beneficial actions into account during the early stage referral process.
If you're thinking of using this option, we strongly recommend contacting us early to discuss how you might use advanced offsets.
Read our Advanced Offset Policy to learn more about advanced offsets and how you may use them under the EPBC Act.
If your action is covered by an approved strategic assessment the offset requirements may be different.
Strategic assessments look at offsets in a strategic or regional context for a range of approved actions, rather than on an individual case-by-case basis.
The following videos were created under the National Environmental Science Program (NESP). They simply provide general information about environmental offsets, and don't necessarily reflect Government policy.
For specific information, read our policy and guidance documents.
Introduction to biodiversity offsetting
Learn what NESP says about biodiversity offsetting (2:46 minutes).
Why do we offset?
Find out what type of project might need a biodiversity offset, according to NESP (4:20 minutes).
What do we offset?
Discover how the NESP describes and measures biodiversity for offsetting (7:59 minutes).
Calculating losses and gains
See how NESP estimates the gain from an offset (4:04 minutes).
Uncertainty, time lags and multipliers
Understand how NESP deals with uncertainty, time lags and multipliers for offsets (7:15 minutes).
Learn about the rules the NESP uses to help make offsets more effective (6:35 minutes).
Spatially strategic offsets
Learn how NESP recommends to coordinate offset action to achieve greater biodiversity benefits (6:00 minutes).
Target-based ecological compensation
Discover how NESP aligns offsets for biodiversity loss with conservation targets (6:10 minutes).
Monitoring and evaluation
Learn how NESP uses data to track the performance of individual offsets and offset programs (6:57 minutes).
State and territory governments have their own offsets policies, which you may also need to comply with. We've listed state and territory links, but we can't guarantee the information is current.
The Northern Territory policy is currently under development, and Tasmanian policy applies to specific matters only.