Under pressure

7 March 2017

A new Australian State of the Environment report finds that while past policies and management practices have achieved some improvements, parts of the Australian environment are in decline due to increasing cumulative pressures.

It is the fifth edition of the report series, which every five years highlights trends, management and future outlook for the Australian environment.

Key findings include that our built environment, natural and cultural heritage, and marine and Antarctic environments conditions are generally in good condition.

However, Australian environment continues to face the same challenges as five years ago, which include climate change, land-use change, habitat fragmentation and degradation, and invasive species.

Much of Australia’s unique environment is declining across a range of aspects and indicators.

Led by environmental consultant Dr William Jackson the authors acknowledge that there is also some reason for optimism, citing policies such as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.

The formation of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority has resulted in a better oversight of our energy and resources industry.

But the authors drive home the point that some parts of Australia’s environment are not yet being managed sustainably.

The authors point to cumulative impacts, which they are particularly notable in the more populated coastal areas in south-eastern Australia, where the pressure is growing from climate change and increasing human activities.

Sustainability issues also remain in the extensive land-use zone of Australia, where grazing is posing a major threat to biodiversity.

Population growth and economic activity are key drivers of environmental change, and how they impact depends on a range of factors including:

Since the last assessment in 2011, some individual pressures on the environment have decreased, such as those associated with air quality, poor agricultural practices, commercial fishing, and oil and gas exploration and production in Australia’s marine environment.

During the same time, however, other pressures have increased, including as a result of coalmining and the coal-seam gas industry, habitat fragmentation and degradation, invasive species, litter in our coastal and marine environments, and greater traffic volumes in our capital cities.

And the authors give a strong warning: "Without substantial changes, there is doubt about the capacity of our natural capital to continue to provide the services required to support Australia’s economy and wellbeing in the longer term."

More information: www.ABARES.gov.au