Introduction: Infrastructure projects or development activities often generate a loss of biodiversity and reduce the quality of the environment’s services to human societies. Fortunately, many of these impacts can be reduced, controlled, or compensated through mitigation, rehabilitation, and compensation measures, which usually rely on the environmental legal framework of the countries or states where they are implemented. This review provides a theoretical vision of using environmental compensation as a legal/technical instrument integrated into natural environment management.

Methodology: We reviewed the global literature on the subject using the GoogleScholar and SciELO reference search engines using various indicators in English and Spanish.

Results: We found 244 references on environmental compensation, showing a clear increasing pattern in the last decade. Environmental compensation constitutes a legal/technical instrument that allows offsets for environmental losses and often is part of the Environmental Impact Studies regulated by the state. Several methodological strategies are used to establish compensatory actions, each of them based on one of four possible approaches: economic, ecological, political, and cultural. The ecological equivalence between the impacted environmental elements and compensation is sought within the ecological approach, ensuring no net loss. Thus, this approach allows the incorporation of multiple criteria for the evaluation of damage and compensation actions: it can be applied in different situations. Nevertheless, compensatory measures are not exempt from criticism. There are situations in which the singularity of the impacted elements makes an adequate compensation for losses impossible.

Conclusions: Compensation is highly relevant in environmental management and must favor the universal right to a healthy environment. However, its practical application requires clear procedures and close vigilance to prevent losses or even a net environmental gain.

Keywords: environment; biodiversity; ecological equivalence; economic equivalence; environmental evaluation.