Biodiversity offsets are part of a new suite of biodiversity conservation instruments designed to mitigate the impacts of economic developments on species, habitats and ecosystems. Led by an international collaboration of representatives from companies, financial institutions, governments and NGOs, the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) of the market-oriented Forest Trends group, has created a global framework through which principles and standards for biodiversity offsets are being established. These enable the apparently unavoidable harm caused by development to be exchanged for investment in conservation activities both at different geographical locations and in the future. Offsets can also be traded via bespoke markets for environmental conservation indicators. Given a globalising ‘green economy’ discourse that conservation can be a profitable enterprise if guided by market-based mechanisms and the entwining of ecological with economic categories, biodiversity offsets are becoming part of current entrepreneurial interest in biodiversity conservation. The green rush of my title refers to both this interest in conservation activities that can be marketised, and to an associated appetite in business and financial sectors for incorporating biodiversity offsets as part of a strategy for ‘greening’ the environmental harm caused by developments. Through a case-study connecting the extraction of uranium in Namibia for the generation of nuclear power in the UK, in which biodiversity offsets are invoked for the off-site mitigation of environmental harm at both ends of this commodity chain, I explore some implications of this new greening mechanism. I focus on 1. the (un)ecological assumptions guiding biodiversity offsets in organising complex ecological assemblages to serve ‘sustainable development’, and 2. some of the equity implications of the distributions and allocations of new environmental values that seem likely to arise from these.
Key terms: biodiversity offsets, uranium, nuclear power, Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP), Hinkley Point (UK), Namibia, EDF, Areva, value, mitigation hierarchy, conservation