PRETORIA, April 11 (NNN-SA NEWS) -- The South African government has published its draft National Biodiversity Offset Policy for public comment, the Department of Environmental Affairs says.

The draft policy was published in the Government Gazette under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), 1998 to ensure that significant residual impacts of developments are remedied, as required by the Act, thereby ensuring that sustainable development takes place in line with the Constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to the health and well-being of South Africans, the department said in a statement here Monday.

The draft policy also responds to the National Development Plan (NDP), which requires that South Africa's ecosystems and natural resources are used efficiently.

Habitat loss is recognized as the primary driver of biodiversity loss and biodiversity offsets are becoming an internationally accepted tool that can be used to ensure that development is ecologically sustainable by enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of priority ecosystems and fragile biodiversity-rich areas not under formal protection.

The proposed policy will need to be taken into consideration with all development applications that will still have residual impact after the mitigation sequence has been followed in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.

In addition, the policy requires this process to be finalised before the application is submitted for approval, in order to enable the relevant Competent Environmental Authorities to make an informed decision.

The implementation of the draft policy on biodiversity offsets for South Africa will ensure that due remedy is obtained for significant adverse impacts on biodiversity resulting from development. The policy will contribute to securing priority biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in perpetuity, for the benefit of both present and future generations, and so ensure sustainable development, the department said.

Members of the public are invited to submit to the Minister within 60 days after the publication of the notice in the Gazette, which was published last week.