What is the Mitigation & Conservation Hierarchy?


One of the greatest challenges of the 21st century is meeting humanity’s increasing demand for natural resources, whilst remaining within the biophysical limits of the Earth system. The post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework seeks to transform humanity’s relationship with nature, with a bold vision of ‘living in harmony with nature’ by 2050. 

However, ambitious goals are only meaningful if they can be translated into inclusive actions across all sectors of society. Almost every type of human activity draws down on natural resources. As such, conservation actions need to move beyond a niche interest of ‘conservationists’, to be incorporated in to the every-day actions and decisions of governments, businesses and individuals.

“Every nation, organisation and individual has a responsibility, and the power, to create meaningful change”

Through smart development policies, responsible businesses operations and sustainable lifestyle choices, every individual and organisation can take concrete actions which scale towards aspirational global goals for nature. The Mitigation and Conservation hierarchy helps all levels and sectors of society to contribute towards such goals, by providing a step-by-step framework to guide identification, implementation and monitoring of specific actions that contribute to overarching biodiversity goals.

Founded on the mitigation hierarchy: the framework is structured around four steps, which are based on the well-established ‘mitigation hierarchy’ for addressing the impacts of development on biodiversity: First 1. Avoid and then 2. Minimise impacts as far as possible, then 3.Restore/Remediate impacts that are immediately reversible, and finally 4. Offset any residual impacts, to achieve a desired net outcome (usually no net loss (NNL) or net gain).

Towards a united framework for all conservation actions: However, recognising the need to address past, indirect and diffuse negative impacts on biodiversity; and to incorporate conservation potential beyond direct impact mitigation for aspirational nature-positive outcomes, we unite impact mitigation with proactive conservation under a single framework. In doing so, we outline ‘Four Steps for the Earth’: refrain, reduce, restore and renew; which can be implemented via two pathways: the mitigation hierarchy, for mitigating future negative impacts, and the conservation hierarchy, for delivering additional conservation potential.

The Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy therefore expands on the established mitigation hierarchy approach in two key ways:
  1. It can be used by sectors, and for impacts, where the mitigation hierarchy has not yet been widely applied. This includes use by entities such as city councils, community groups and individuals, and sectors including natural resource exploitation (e.g. agriculture, fisheries, forestry), where the impacts are sometimes geographically dispersed through long, complex value chains.
  2. It adds a conservation element that goes beyond mitigating impacts, to encompass any activities affecting nature. This means that conservation actions to address historical, systemic and non-attributable biodiversity loss can be accounted for in the same framework as actions to mitigate specific impacts. 

Overall, this provides a simple set of steps which can guide the delivery of net positive outcomes for nature, relative to a baseline. Moreover, the intuitive simplicity of the ‘Four Steps’ idea, and its broad applicability to a range of users and circumstances, can foster wide ownership, allowing for seemingly disparate actions to be accounted for across sectors, scales, and nations.