Avoid, minimise, offset
Updated: May 18
The "avoid - minimise - offset" (AMO) approach to biodiversity preservation aims to reconcile economic development and environmental issues by framing a methodology to minimise the impacts of human activities on nature, particularly in the land-use planning sector.
It first appeared in the laws of some European countries in 1976 (e.g. France and Germany) and is now also included in European regulations. Since 2016 in France, a legislative text specifies the objective of the AMO sequence to avoid any net loss of biodiversity in all phases of projects, including planning documents.
But what does this mean in practice? How can companies comply with this principle? And which projects are concerned by this regulation?
The avoid – minimise – offset approach framework
The AMO sequence consists, as its name indicates, in avoiding, reducing and offsetting the impacts of a company's activities on biodiversity, in that order.
The hierarchy between measures is crucial here:
first, avoid impacts as much as possible
second, minimise remaining impacts at maximum
finally, compensate for unavoidable residual impacts
The compensation measures implemented must verify two principles:
no net loss of biodiversity
No net loss of biodiversity means that the amount of biodiversity gains obtained by the offset measures shall match the losses generated by the project.
Ecological equivalence is a more qualitative criterion: the offset must target the same habitats, species and ecological functions as those impacted by the project.
More specifically, this condition implies that:
the compensation site is, as much as possible, close to the project site
the restoration measures must allow for a gain in biodiversity equivalent, in terms of quality, to the loss caused by the project (for example, the same species must be targeted, the same habitats restored, etc.)
after restoration, the offset site should provide a similar ecological service to the project site (e.g. if the project has degraded a pond, another similar ecosystem that provides habitat for aquatic biodiversity and services such as water retention should be restored).
The avoid - minimise - offset measures
The measures that can be implemented at each stage of the AMO approach are different in nature.
Avoiding measures are mainly implemented in the early stages of a project, when its schedule and planning are defined. They consist in selecting the best locations, techniques and times for the working phases.
Reducing measures are taken during the project itself (although decided in advance). They involve specific actions and procedures, tailored to the project, to minimise the remaining impacts on ecosystems.
Finally, compensating measures are long-term actions aimed at creating or restoring ecosystems in accordance with the principle of "ecological equivalence".
More specifically, the methodology to be applied when a project has to comply with the AMO approach is detailed below. It is important to note that if the impacts of the project are too intense, or if the project leader proposes compensation measures that do not meet the requirements, the project may be significantly modified or, in the worst case, cancelled.
Which companies are concerned?
Around the world, AMO approaches are inconsistently integrated into countries' legislation. There are different levels of regulation, and the countries that apply them are shown in the figure below.
0: no compensation mentioned in national policy
1: minimum regulatory provisions for compensation
2: voluntary offsetting possible
3: mandatory offsetting for at least some projects in some contexts
At the European level, the legislation does not really identify the sectors or industries that must comply with the AMO approach. The only legal obligation in European legislation concerns projects likely to affect a Natura 2000 site. Natura 2000 is a European network of protected areas that represents 18% of the land area in Europe and aims to preserve a number of habitats and species representative of European ecosystems. Whenever a project is likely to have an impact on such a site, even if it is not physically carried out on the site, a full AMO analysis must be carried out and residual impacts must be compensated.
Otherwise, each European country decides which sectors are covered by the AMO approach. Typical sectors are construction, land-use planning and extractive industries. Sectors such as agriculture, forestry or fisheries are often excluded.
More specifically, in France, the Code de l'environnement imposes the AMO approach on projects based on their nature, dimension or location, and by reaching certain thresholds on specific criteria, defined in the legislation.
The projects concerned are mainly located in the sectors of :
the construction and execution of works
the exploitation of resources, especially soil exploitation
other works taking place in the wild or affecting the landscape
By forcing project promoters to take the environment into account in all phases of their work, the AMO approach is an important regulatory tool for biodiversity conservation.
However, its scope, particularly in terms of the sectors it covers, remains limited. Moreover, some strategic infrastructure projects benefit from exemptions even though their impacts on nature can be significant.
Another limitation of these regulations is the lack of proper verification for all projects. Many impacts are in fact not reported and the theoretically mandatory compensation is not implemented.
These regulations need to be updated and improved to ensure that all projects with an impact are included in the mandatory scope, while at the same time providing the project manager with the necessary knowledge and tools to implement the AMO approach.
If you are looking for advice on how to assess and manage the impact of your activities on biodiversity, reach out to Cécile Klinguer (email@example.com), Consultant in Environmental Intelligence at Greenfish.