On December 29, 2009, the Center of Biodiversity and Development (CBD) of the Institute of Tropical Biology (ITB) in HCMC, in cooperation with IUCN and Holcim Vietnam Ltd (HVL), the global cement company, and the Kien Giang Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) organized a workshop in Rach Gia on conservation planning in the karst hills of Kien Luong District in Kien Giang Province . Forty-five participants attended from provincial and district government, NGOs, and research centers.
The purpose of the workshop was to review the draft conservation plan that CBD has prepared with financial support from IUCN, HVL, and the MacArthur Foundation. Kien Luong's karst is a conservation priority because they are home to a large number of endemic species and are highly threatened. In Kien Luong, the principal threat is quarrying for cement production. HVL has a large operation in the district. Two state-owned cement companies are also present in Kien Luong. The Kien Luong karst is considered of special interest because it is geographically isolated from other karst areas in Vietnam.
For IUCN, this initiative is of special interest because it is an example of the use of conservation offsets, in this case by HVL to offset the impact of its limestone quarrying. Conservation offsets are defined as measurable conservation outcomes, deliberately achieved to balance significant biodiversity losses that cannot be countered by avoidance, mitigation, or restoration. Offsets are becoming increasingly common because often high pressure on limited resources means that trade-offs are unavoidable. Some impacts cannot be avoided, mitigated, or restored; they must be offset.
Some environmental groups oppose conservation offsets on the basis that they give industry a license to pollute and destroy the environment. But that may not be a realistic approach. In Vietnam, rapid urbanization and industrialization require an adequate supply of concrete. The question is not whether karst hills will be quarried but what conservation benefits can be gained from the activity―the offset. In Kien Luong, the offset is the creation of a new protected area to improve management of the seven karst hills that are not being or are not slated to be quarried.
Next steps include the completion of the feasibility study for the proposed protected area by FIPI and engaging the state-owned cement companies in this process. For more information about conservation offsets, go to http://bbop.forest-trends.org/.