Biodiversity offsetting is the widely studied last step of the mitigation hierarchy. Despite numerous studies and the methodological development completed for biodiversity calculations, the human aspect remains unsolved. Biodiversity conservation is typically governed at national or state levels, but the harm caused to biodiversity as well as people occurs locally. In biodiversity offsetting, biodiversity values can be relocated far from the original area, but relocating the values people hold regarding their nearby nature may not be possible. Acknowledging the local people’s hopes and values may further complicate biodiversity offsetting, therefore it emphasises even more the need to avoid and reduce the negative impacts, i.e. the earlier steps of mitigation hierarchy.
In this review we present the current understanding of the social impacts on biodiversity offsetting based on scientific literature. We identified a clear research gap in relation to the opportunities local people have to participate in decision-making processes related to biodiversity offsetting. Biodiversity offsetting can cause the displacement of local people and negatively affect their livelihood, but there is little literature on that aspect of the offsetting procedure. In addition, biodiversity offsetting can cause loss of livelihood or living area in the Global South while impacts in the Global North are often more indirect. Ways to compensate the losses to local people vary from land use rights in other areas to economic compensation. It is unclear if there are offsetting protocols which are acceptable both socially and in terms of biodiversity.