© Jim Oakleaf

Development by Design

Ways to address the challenges of land modification

The challenges facing our world are urgent. The pace of conservation must grow faster, and we can’t do it alone. Through partnerships with governments, businesses, and civil society, The Nature Conservancy collaborates to find and share good ideas to improve people’s lives and protect the world’s great places. We incorporate those same ideas into our development planning approach, amplifying our influence and the speed of positive change.

Landscape Level Mitigation

Environmental licensing processes, such as Impact Mitigation play a critical role in controlling the way development projects result in damage to the environment. Mitigation can generally be defined as measures taken to avoid, minimize, or reduce the severity of environmental impacts. In the mitigation context, landscape mitigation dictates that it is not sufficient to look narrowly at impacts at the scale of an individual project; it is necessary to account for impacts considering the values of a range of relevant resources that are being impacted. Development of landscape-scale mitigation plans have the potential to increase the effectiveness of conservation interventions while streamline permitting of projects. Despite these benefits, mitigation still largely occurs on a project by project basis. To advance the use of landscape mitigation, The Nature Conservancy is advancing this approach through a variety of projects that focus on an array of development footprints i.e. agriculture, energy, mining, roads and in a range of geographies i.e. Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Colorado (USA), Central Appalachians (USA), Contiguous United States, Indonesia, Intermountain West (USA), Kansas (USA), Mongolia, Northern Great Plains (USA), Wyoming (USA).

Laws and Regulations

Over the next two decades, governments and companies will invest unprecedented sums – well over 20 trillion dollars – in development projects around the world, from Argentina to Zambia. Rapidly developing countries are making trillion dollar investments in infrastructure. Without strong oversight and proactive planning, countries with high development pressure, which also have weak governance and insufficient environmental protection procedures, are likely to suffer severe environmental damage. In contrast, where environmental regulations are adequately enforced, impacts on biodiversity can be avoided and properly offset. Opportunities for improvement include extending mitigation regulations to countries that currently lack them and strengthening compliance where implementation of mitigation is weak. The Nature Conservancy seeks to improve environmental regulations and their enforcement by partnering with government regulatory agencies in a range of geographies i.e. Colombia, Mongolia, and the United States.

Lending Requirements

Attempts to meet biodiversity goals through application of the mitigation hierarchy have gained wide traction globally with increased development of public policy, lending standards, and corporate policy. In the public policy sector, mitigation programs are evolving rapidly. In the financial sector, major institutions including the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and more than 70 Equator Principles financial institutions that base their requirements on IFC’s Performance Standards are requiring projects they finance to adhere to the mitigation hierarchy. This means they should seek to avoid impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services or – where this is not possible – to minimize or restore them. In critical habitats, this also means achieving net gains of biodiversity values for which these habitats have been designated. The Nature Conservancy is working with lending institutions, governments and companies to improve implementation of these standards.


Only 5% of the world’s land remains unaltered by human development, and most are in a state of intermediate modification at the threshold of critical tipping points. While habitat protection is an important conservation strategy, the current placement of protected areas is not well positioned to maintain current conservation values and mitigate future development impacts. Globally, only 5% of the natural lands at high risk of development are under strict protection. The Nature Conservancy has led the way in saving iconic landscapes on Earth, helping to protect more than 119 million acres (about 48 million hectares) of land, conserving thousands of river miles & developing more than 100 marine projects. Building from our past experience & working with governments, corporations, other partners we are seeking to transform how and where we protect nature.