Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories
© Commonwealth of Australia 1994
ISBN: 0 642 20205 2
Appendix A State
of the Environment Advisory Council
Appendix B Australia's international environmental reporting obligations
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State of the environment reporting is one of the most powerful tools for informing the public about their environment. It describes the effects of human activities on the condition of the environment and the implications of this for human health and economic well-being. It also provides an opportunity to actively, directly and accountably monitor the performance of government policies against actual environmental outcomes. In this way, it can in effect act as a report card on the condition of the environment and natural resource stocks.
As a consequence, discussions about future economic and social development can be based on accurate and commonly agreed perceptions of environmental conditions and trends. If these conditions and trends are identified as they develop, decision makers in industry and government can avoid policies that might be environmentally unsustainable and have socially and economically inequitable and costly results. And educators, planners and managers, community and industry groups, and research scientists will have available to them objective, scientifically credible information upon which to base their decisions and actions.
The National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development calls for the introduction of regular national state of the environment reporting to enhance the quality, accessibility and relevance of data relating to ecologically sustainable development.
State of the environment reports are now produced regularly by many industrialised countries; such reporting is an obligation for OECD member nations, including Australia. To meet the need for improved environmental information and to satisfy its international obligations, the Commonwealth Government has given responsibility for regular reporting on the state of the Australian environment to the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories. The State of the Environment Reporting Unit, which comes within the Environment Information, Science and Reporting Branch of the Environment Strategies Directorate, will carry out this task on behalf of the Department.
This document presents the framework for establishing a state of the environment reporting system. It identifies a clear purpose for the system, provides principles to guide activities, specifies a series of objectives, and describes how to achieve those objectives. Finally, it proposes a mechanism for regular evaluation.
In developing the framework, account has been taken of public comment on the discussion paper issued in December 1992 and of outcomes of the consultative workshop on state of the environment reporting held in Melbourne in February 1993.
The basic purpose of the state of the environment reporting framework is to allow for regular reporting on an agreed set of national indicators that show changes and trends in environmental conditions, in much the same way as well-accepted economic indicators are used to report on the state of the economy. State of the environment reports will also identify the implications of current activities and resource uses for future environmental conditions and their associated social and economic costs. The reporting system will enable the community, private sector interests and government to act in the long-term interests of the environment to pursue the goal of ecologically sustainable development for present and future generations.
Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories
This document has been produced by the State of the Environment Reporting Unit in the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories. It was developed through a broad process of public consultation that included an orientation conference in Canberra in August 1992, circulation of a discussion paper prepared by CSIRO in December 1992, and a further workshop held in Melbourne in February 1993. It also takes into account comments provided by members of the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council's Taskforce on State of the Environment Reporting and by representatives of a number of Commonwealth government departments and statutory authorities.
The principle of ecologically sustainable development is now broadly supported in the community, by governments of the Commonwealth and the States and Territories, and by many local government bodies. This support arises from recognition that our lifestyle depends critically on a range of natural assets: air, soils, water, mineral resources, forests and other biological systems. This dependence was expressed concisely by the World Commission on Environment and Development in Our Common Future. The Commission warned that our future pattern of economic development needs a sound ecological base if we are even to maintain present living standards, let alone achieve the improvements many people desire.
Establishing a pattern of sustainable development is our responsibility to all future generations of Australians; it is also our duty as global citizens. But it will not be possible without adequate and accessible information.
There is widespread, and understandable, concern about some aspects of environmental quality, such as air pollution, degradation of waterways, loss of biological diversity and erosion of agricultural land. Decision makers need reliable data on these and other key indicators of the state of the environment. They also need to know how the environment is changing. Without adequate, accessible information, we are prone to making two sorts of errors: we might inadvertently do irreparable damage to the natural systems on which we depend; and we might forgo opportunities for desirable developments because we lack detailed understanding of the potential impacts.
This document, endorsed by the State of the Environment Advisory Council, sets out a framework for a national reporting program to provide the information needed for responsible future planning. The Council was established by the Commonwealth Government to guide the development and implementation of the reporting program. The current membership of the Council is at Appendix A. The Council will be advised by a number of expert reference groups, whose work will be crucial to the development of a comprehensive and accurate picture of the state of the Australian environment.
The Council will guide the preparation of and endorse reports on the state of the Australian environment. It will also guide the development of a set of nationally agreed environmental indicators to facilitate consistent and regular reporting. These are the two principal tools needed to plot a sustainable path of development a snapshot of the current situation and a set of indicators that will allow us to observe changes as they are occurring.
These products of the reporting program will be a vital guide for decision makers, both in government and in the private sector. They will also be invaluable for the community, allowing discussion of environmental issues to be based on the best available information. The Council hopes that the improved information base will enhance the quality, accessibility and relevance of data relating to ecologically sustainable development and thus materially assist the management of Australia's environment and development.
This document is a first attempt at an ambitious task; it will certainly need to be refined in light of experience. The Council is very keen to involve the entire community in refining the reporting framework after all, it is your environment that is at stake. Any comments you might have, on the reporting task and on its approach, will be most welcome.
State of the Environment Advisory Council
The reporting system has the following broad objectives:
Like many other countries, Australia will adopt the OECD's pressure-state-response approach to state of the environment reporting. Reports will examine the environmental pressures resulting from energy production and use, population change, urban growth and international trade, and from activities in major economic sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and transport. They will also examine the state produced by these pressures on atmospheric, terrestrial, inland aquatic, marine and urban environments and report on responses, such as policy initiatives, legislative reform and changes in public behaviour. Further, the reports will examine specific environmental issues (for example, the impacts of feral animals on biodiversity).
The reporting system will cater to the needs of a diverse audience, which includes the general public, government, industry and community-based decision makers, the media, educators and scientists. A variety of products will be produced for these groups: a comprehensive state of the environment report every four years, the first being scheduled for the second half of 1995; and at various other times technical reports, a state of the environment newsletter, an environmental atlas, specific research papers, educational information kits, and computer-compatible information.
Reporting will concentrate on the Australian continent (including Tasmania), its marine environments, and the external territories (with the exception of the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands). As part of Australia's response to international environmental issues, assessments will, as far as practical, be placed in a global context.
National state of the environment reporting requires partnership arrangements with various government agencies and with non-government organisations and groups. To facilitate these arrangements, and to provide professional and scientific advice, the system makes provision for the following:
In the past two decades the governments of a diverse range of countries, including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, the Philippines, the Scandinavian nations, Turkey and the United States, have published reports on national environmental conditions. OECD members are obliged to produce state of the environment reports and most of them have done so.
In several countries environmental reporting is thoroughly integrated into national economic policy formulation. For instance, in the Netherlands an independent research institute, the Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieuhygiene, produces comprehensive environmental outlook reports that assess current conditions and trends against criteria for ecological sustainability. These public environmental audits are presented to the Dutch Parliament. They monitor and influence the workings of the Dutch National Environment Policy Plan, which guides Dutch economic and environmental policy towards ecological sustainability within one generation by the year 2010.
The Canadian Government published state of the environment reports in 1986 and 1991 and has published a preliminary set of environmental indicators for state of the environment reporting. It is now revising its issue areas for such reporting, to focus more directly on life-support systems, human health and well-being, and resource sustainability.
A number of non-government organisations, such as the World Resources Institute, also produce state of the environment reports, as do international agencies such as the United Nations Environment Programme and the OECD.
The 1991 OECD report on the state of the environment had the following aims:
The need for national environmental reporting was recognised in Australia in the mid-70s and work led to the publication in 1980 of Australian Environment Statistics 1980 and in 1983 of Australian Urban Environmental Indicators, the latter document containing quality of life indicators for 73 major cities and towns.
Following the 1979 OECD resolution that member countries should develop national state of the environment reports, in 1981 the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation recommended that such reports be prepared at regular intervals.
The Commonwealth Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment published the first Australian state of the environment report in 1986. It reported on the condition of major sectors of the environment land, water, air, and native plants and animals especially in relation to the 1984 National Conservation Strategy for Australia, and was accompanied by a source book containing detailed statistical data and discussion of environmental issues. The report was tabled in Parliament. The following year another report, focusing on issues and sectors not examined in the first report, was published. The reporting program then lapsed.
Today, Australia has international environmental reporting obligations to the OECD, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific, and the World Meteorological Organization (see Appendix B). In addition, by 1996 Australia will be the subject of an OECD environmental performance review, which will draw in part on the information provided through state of the environment reporting activities.
Australia's reporting obligations for matters relevant to ecological sustainability have further increased as a result of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. State of the environment reports will be sought by the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development to assist in monitoring the implementation of Agenda 21, the major program to emerge from the Rio Conference. The Framework Convention on Climate Change, ratified by Australia in 1992, also involves a commitment to periodic reporting on greenhouse gas emissions and sinks. Another reporting obligation arises from Australia's ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development commits all governments to regular state of the environment reporting. In his December 1992 Statement on the Environment the Prime Minister reasserted the basic tenets of ecologically sustainable development: maintenance of biodiversity, and the need for economic growth based on policies that sustain the environmental resource base. In the Statement the Government made a commitment to regular state of the environment reporting to ensure public access to up- to-date and accurate information about the environment. The Statement notes that state of the environment reports will provide objective analysis and interpretation of data, which will identify significant environmental conditions and trends. Of equal importance are explanations of the reasons for these conditions and trends and discussion of action being taken to sustain and improve Australia's environment.
Responsibility for regular reporting on the state of the Australian environment has been given to the Environment Information, Science and Reporting Branch, which comes within the Environment Strategies Directorate of the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories. State of the environment reporting is the direct responsibility of the State of the Environment Reporting Unit within the Branch and is being implemented on behalf of the portfolio. In performing its tasks, the Unit will work with the relevant program areas of the Commonwealth Government and with State, Territory and local governments, and community, industry and research groups.
A report on the state of Australia's marine environment is being prepared by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories as part of its Ocean Rescue 2000 program. This report will provide information for the development of a national marine conservation plan, for a national marine education program, and for future marine reporting in national state of the environment reports.
Other monitoring and reporting programs relevant to the state of the environment are being initiated through nationally agreed strategies, including the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, the National Greenhouse Response Strategy, the draft National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biodiversity, the National Forest Policy Statement and the draft National Water Quality Management Strategy, and through the various ministerial councils responsible for environment and natural resource use issues. It is expected that state of the environment reports for Australia will draw on the findings of these programs as appropriate and on those of other programs as they arise.
Most State and Territory governments have developed state of the environment reporting programs. Reports have now been published by the Australian Capital Territory, Victorian, South Australian, Western Australian and New South Wales Governments. South Australia, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania have established programs for regular reporting. In New South Wales state of the environment reporting is required under the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991, in the Australian Capital Territory it is covered under the Commissioner for the Environment Act 1993, and in Tasmania it is covered by the State Policies and Projects Act 1993. These State and Territory reporting programs will make a significant contribution to the development of a comprehensive national state of the environment monitoring, assessment and reporting program.
Development of the State and Territory reporting programs has usually necessitated identification of existing environmental monitoring programs and data sets suitable for their reporting needs. Some States have also nominated indicators for state of the environment monitoring. The Victorian Office of the Commissioner for the Environment did this through two major state of the environment reports, one on the State's inland waters and one on agricultural land, and two consultants reports, one on air quality indicators and monitoring and one on marine and coastal environmental indicators. The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority has published a discussion paper detailing its proposed environmental indicators.
Much of the data gathered by State and Territory environmental monitoring programs, such as those conducted by environment protection authorities, water boards and resource departments, will be of value to both State and Territory and Commonwealth state of the environment reporting. Some indicators identified by the States will probably be applicable at the national level. State and Territory programs will, however, have requirements for detailed reporting additional to those for national reporting.
Commonwealth and State and Territory state of the environment reporting programs should be coordinated to ensure that they are of mutual benefit and that duplication of resources and effort is avoided.
There are at present about 900 local governments in Australia: they have an important role in environmental management and they are significant contributors to monitoring the state of the Australian environment. They regulate many activities that have a direct impact on the environment; for example, land use planning, development approvals processes, subdivision and building applications, vegetation clearance controls and, in some areas, soil conservation.
Through Agenda 21 and through specific legislation (for example, under the New South Wales Local Government Act 1993 and the Queensland Local Government (Planning and Environment) Act 1990) local governments are beginning to inherit environment reporting responsibilities. Some local governments (for example, Shoalhaven and Coffs Harbour) have prepared state of the environment reports as part of local or regional conservation management strategies. Others (for example, the inner metropolitan councils of Melbourne) have started to investigate reporting frameworks and potential environmental indicators. New information technologies such as geographic information systems will also help local governments to meet their planning and environment reporting requirements.
Although Australia has been inhabited for more than 50 000 years, there is no doubt that the arrival in 1788 of the first European settlers heralded profound changes in the environment. In the past 200 years much of the Australian environment has suffered significant degradation under the pressure of increasing human uses and activities. Some of the impacts are irreversible and as a consequence there has been a growing awareness of the need to better protect our natural attributes and manage our natural resources.
Recognition of the environmental costs of economic development and acceptance
by many countries of the principles of ecologically sustainable development have
provided a new momentum for learning from past practices in order to guide the
development of better policies.
It is now widely recognised that the environment and the economy are intimately linked; the challenge remains to build policies that provide for ecologically sustainable development without compromising the environment for present and future generations.
State of the environment reports will contribute to meeting this challenge by bringing together credible information about all aspects of the environment. They will provide information about human-induced pressures on, changes to and trends in Australia's environment, and about responses to those changes and trends. The natural variability of Australia's climate and environment will be taken into account.
State of the environment reporting is broad in scope: it covers terrestrial, atmospheric, marine, inland aquatic and urban environments, and it encompasses information about the environmental effects of energy production and use, population change, urban growth and international trade, and from activity in the major economic sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and transport. The reporting system will also review societal responses to the changing condition of the environment.
Such reporting provides information for government and industry policy and community action to enhance the quality of life for all Australians, to protect the country's wildlife and preserve its biological diversity, and to assist in the maintenance of an internationally competitive and environmentally sound economy.
State of the environment reporting will enable compilation of scientifically credible, timely and consistent information about changes to and trends in Australia's environment. On the basis of rigorous analysis and assessment, an integrated, accessible national picture will be made available to the public, industry, non- government organisations and all levels of government.
A major purpose of state of the environment reporting is to enhance the quality, accessibility and relevance of information relating to the goal of ecologically sustainable development. This framework will enable decision makers to adopt an integrated, longer term perspective, to foster the wise use of the community's resources in a way that maintains ecological processes and increases the total quality of life, now and in the future.
Another important purpose of the reporting system is to meet Australia's international environment reporting obligations.
State of the environment reporting will be guided by the following principles:
The following are the broad objectives of the state of the environment reporting system:
It is now widely accepted in other countries, and public consultations in Australia have confirmed, that there is a broad community of users of state of the environment information. The following are among the main user groups:
Each group has different needs. For example, while scientists and environmental planners require very detailed information, the general public, secondary school students and community groups will want broader assessments of the state of the environment, and government decision makers and the media will generally want succinct summaries. Figure 1 shows the hierarchy of needs of users of state of the environment information. All groups will expect the information, in whatever form it is provided, to be up-to-date, accurate and accessible. Meeting this expectation is a fundamental goal of state of the environment reporting.
In meeting this expectation the State of the Environment Reporting Unit will develop a communications strategy that will identify more clearly the range of users and the products best suited to their needs. The needs of government and community and professional groups can be accommodated if rigorous standards are applied and information is provided in appropriate forms.
It is also anticipated that partnership agreements between the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories and other government and non-government groups will result in collaborative products. Box 1 shows potential products of the state of the environment reporting program. One principal product will be a comprehensive national report, to be published every four years.
Box 1 Potential products of the state of the environment reporting program
Access to soundly based scientific data on the state of the environment will continue to be developed for government, community and industry use, in conjunction with the environmental information infrastructure already being developed within the Commonwealth Government—for example, the Environmental Resources Information Network, the National Resource Information Centre and the National Forest Inventory.
The approach adopted for state of the environment reporting for Australia has two major elements:
Recent years have seen considerable international progress in developing a consistent conceptual structure for reporting on the state of the environment. In keeping with many industrialised countries, Australia has adopted the OECD's pressure-state-response model for its reporting system. Figure 2 shows this model. It is based on the concept of causality: human activities exert pressures on the environment and change its state, or condition. Society responds to this changed state by developing and implementing policies, which complete the cycle and influence those human activities that exert pressure on the environment. Of course, human inactivity a failure to respond can also exert pressure on the environment, altering its state.
It should be borne in mind that the OECD model is not unique and that any structure will probably change as community values change and our understanding of environmental problems increases. Furthermore, the OECD model implies simple relationships in the interaction between human activity and the environment: this should obscure neither the complexity of ecological relationships nor the difficulties in determining the natural variability of ecological systems.
State of the environment reporting will also be guided by the principles of ecologically sustainable development, as outlined in the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in 1992, and by the principles enunciated in the draft National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The framework is broad in scope and the various reporting products identified in Box 1 will have different emphases. The major state of the environment reports will, however, be comprehensive in their coverage (see Box 2). They will review significant environmental pressures and changes caused by human activities and they will broadly link socio-economic forces with changes in the environment.
Box 2 Coverage of Commonwealth state of the environment reports
Using the OECD's pressure-state-response model, state of the environment reports will cover the following :
Other issues may arise and be examined from time to time, and national coverage may be complemented by detailed case studies.
The geographic coverage of state of the environment reporting for Australia will concentrate on the Australian continent (including Tasmania), the continental shelf, the external territories (with the exception of the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands) and areas within the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone. Figure 3 shows mainland Australia and its marine environment.
Reporting on the Australian Antarctic Territory will occur in the context of requirements deriving from the Conservation Strategy for the Australian Antarctic Territory. The proposed management plan for the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands will provide for monitoring and reporting for limited management purposes. The reports will refer to sources of relevant reporting information on the Australian Antarctic Territory.
Where appropriate, state of the environment reports will look at Australia in the context of the Asia-Pacific region and also make global comparisons. As part of Australia's response to global environmental issues, the reporting system will examine the influence of global environmental changes on the Australian environment. And, in keeping with Australia's international responsibilities, it will take into account Australia's contributions to global impacts such as the enhanced greenhouse effect and the depletion of stratospheric ozone.
Five geographic scales of reporting will be used whenever possible:
Reports will, whenever possible, use biophysical and ecological rather than administrative boundaries when presenting information. This practice is now widespread among governments that report on the state of the environment, and it is consistent with current approaches to natural resource management and integrated management of human settlements.
Approaches to regionalisation are complex and criteria for identifying regions and their spatial extent are principally determined according to purpose. Different regionalisations will probably be appropriate for different issues.
Among other spatial units to be considered for environmental reporting are major groundwater basins, major airsheds, urban settlements, and statistical and administrative regions used for national surveys and population censuses. The distribution of selected species and of plant and animal communities will also be included.
Reports will also review the state of information relating to Australian environments. The Australian Science and Technology Council (1990) found that Australia lacks the following:
It is not the function of the state of the environment reporting system to maintain national data of this kind. The reporting products will, however, include a continuing assessment of the adequacy of current environmental monitoring and data management systems; they will continue to identify gaps in monitoring effort, coverage and knowledge of suitable indicators and their use; and they will propose strategies for improving the knowledge base necessary for effective environmental assessment and national state of the environment reporting.
Indicators are measures against which a place, event or circumstance can be assessed. They are usually developed for a specific purpose and they differ from other measures in providing meaning that extends beyond the attributes directly associated with them.
Environmental indicators are physical, chemical, biological or socio-economic measures that can be used to assess natural resources and environmental quality. In a well-developed system of indicators, each matter of environmental concern will have spawned its own specific indicator or indicators. Access to widely accepted, simple indicators of environmental quality is essential for informed decision making. They are an expression of the best available knowledge.
The OECD notes two particular functions for environmental indicators:
Indicators of environmental pressures describe pressures, positive and negative, on the environment. Such pressures can be caused by human inaction as well as action. Indicators of environmental conditions the state of the environment describe the quality of the environment. Measurement of environmental conditions can be extremely difficult and expensive, and the OECD notes that in fact measurement of environmental pressures is often used as a substitute for measurement of environmental conditions.
Indicators of response show the extent to which society is responding to
environmental changes and concerns. This includes individual and collective
actions aimed at mitigating, adapting to or reversing negative impacts on the
environment and to reverse environmental damage already done.
It also includes actions to improve the preservation and conservation of the environment.
The OECD identifies four main uses for environmental indicators:
Figure 4 illustrates this.
Monitoring environmental indicators over time can provide an effective early warning system. The use of environmental indicators in monitoring programs to report on the condition of the environment can therefore serve a range of objectives, including identifying where present social behaviour and economic policies might lead to future environmental degradation and associated economic and social costs.
Procedures for choosing environmental indicators are discussed in many state of the environment reports and in the literature on ecologically sustainable development (see, for example, Kuik & Verbruggen 1991). Box 3 summarises the criteria that are considered most useful for the selection of indicators.
Box 3 Selection criteria for national environmental indicators
Evaluation of environmental change depends on there being a baseline against which such evaluation can take place. In general, baselines are chosen by scientists and managers because of their capacity to indicate significant change in a selected attribute. Baselines can reflect change over time or they can reflect the difference between spatial areas at a particular time.
The natural variability of Australian conditions and the limited availability of data from scientifically rigorous monitoring of environmental change hamper such evaluation.
Much of the significant environmental change to Australia such as clearing of native vegetation, erosion of topsoil, and pollution of waterways with heavy metals occurred during the nineteenth century and earlier this century. The environment continues to change today in response to pressures from human activities but, to accurately represent the importance of current trends and conditions, state of the environment reporting must place impacts in a historical context whenever possible.
State of the environment reporting aims to use credible baseline information that reflects the full extent of impacts of human uses of the environment. Contemporary baselines will be established by the 1995 report wherever available data permit. It is recognised that long-term monitoring will be required to establish reliable baseline information because it may take a number of years to identify trends in the condition of the environment.
One of the principal long-term goals of state of the environment reporting is to provide an indication of the potential impacts of present practices on future resource availability, ecological processes and environmental conditions, including impacts relevant to people's health, distribution and well-being. To a large extent this goal will be achieved through the development and use of techniques for modelling environmental trends and through the development and use of modelling techniques that better integrate environmental and economic information.
State of the environment reporting will facilitate the development of a broadly based capacity for integrated modelling consistent with the OECD pressure-state-response model and with the goal of ecologically sustainable development. At present a variety of modelling and scenario-simulation approaches can be used to predict environmental outcomes for example, ecological models for predicting the risks of species extinction under specified management and environmental conditions; forestry and fisheries harvest models that are used to estimate commercial quotas; and models that evaluate risks from pollution sources, natural hazards and other accidents. Moreover, resource managers and environmental economists are developing techniques, such as multicriteria analysis, for better integrating environmental and economic information for planning and assessment purposes.
It is important to establish formal links between databases and the environmental indicators used for state of the environment assessment and reporting. It will then be possible to study the general relationships between patterns of economic development and the state of Australia's environment and natural resources and to assess progress in implementing environmental policies. Such assessments may be based on historical data or on projected changes in the economy and environment in future years. State of the environment reports can be used to monitor the changing relationships between the economy and the environment and to identify potential future areas of conflict. In this way it will be possible to make judgments about whether the economy is moving towards or away from the goal of ecologically sustainable development.
For the purpose of examining the past performance of the economy and its impacts on the environment, state of the environment reports may be linked with systems of environmental and natural resource accounts. For some years international agencies such as the United Nations Environment Programme, the OECD and the World Bank, as well as agencies in Australia, have been developing accounting systems specifically to determine whether economic growth has been sustainable or whether it has been achieved by running down a nation's stock of natural capital.
The other important connection between state of the environment reporting and
economic analysis lies in the area of multisectoral econometric modelling of the
Australian economy. Large-scale models such as the MONASH (formerly ORANI) model
have been constructed for application to a wide range of economic policy issues.
They are being used to assess the economic implications of national
environmental policies such as those aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions
and introducing various kinds of environmental taxes.
By integrating these models with state of the environment data sets and environmental indicators it will be possible to predict and evaluate the effects, both economic and environmental, of a wide range of government policies. In these applications of state of the environment reporting it will be essential to classify the sectors of the economy, and their environmental links, according to the classification used in national multisectoral econometric models.
Modelling projects for state of the environment reporting will be developed in collaboration with recognised experts and potential users of the reporting products. In the long term, enhancing the capacity to predict the consequences of known environmental trends and the capacity to better integrate environment, economic and social information will become a significant function of state of the environment reporting.
State of the environment reporting will periodically examine specific priority environmental issues. These issues will vary over time, and their coverage will assist in the long-term development of environmental indicators for reporting.
A reporting system predominantly guided by public opinion of environmental issues would tend to be reactive rather than scientifically informed and proactive. For this reason, reporting on topical issues will form only one component of a more systematic review of environmental conditions and trends.
Opinion surveys, undertaken from time to time, will provide an indication of major environmental issues of public concern. Reporting needs for these issues will be determined after consultation with community representatives, including representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and with representatives of environmental, scientific, industry and government agencies and organisations.
The State of the Environment Reporting Unit will work collaboratively with the Environmental Resources Information Network to establish an information system to provide the technological infrastructure for data management, modelling and analysis and for presentation of state of the environment reports. Continuing development of this system will be guided by specialist and user-based advisory and technical working groups and by the National Environmental Indicators Taskforce.
The state of the environment reporting system will seek to coordinate data management in ways that minimise duplication of effort in monitoring, data storage and analysis. This will be achieved by consultation and establishing partnerships that will benefit both the data providers and the reporting system. These matters are discussed in Part Three. The system will not independently develop and maintain a large number of primary data sets.
Data and other information for state of the environment reporting will come from the following sources:
The system will also encourage the use of scientifically rigorous information collected by community networks; for example, information on salinity levels in streams and groundwaters, soil productivity, and the condition and distribution of native plants and animals. This represents a major opportunity for community involvement in state of the environment reporting. Continuing environmental monitoring by industry, often under pollution control licences or development approval conditions, and information provided in environmental impact statements will also contribute to the reporting effort.
Furthermore, the framework will encourage consistency in the standards used to govern data gathered by these sources. One of the first tasks will be to assess and select data sets appropriate to the indicators chosen for reporting. Nationally accepted standards for monitoring environmental indicators and for data representation and transmission will also be developed in association with the system. Development of a national approach to the collection and handling of environmental data is being coordinated under Schedule 1 to the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment.
The reporting program will use geographic information systems (GIS) technology and other databases to facilitate the aggregation, manipulation and analysis of data. As far as practical, data collected will conform with the Australian Spatial Data Transfer Standard now being drafted.
State of the environment reporting will be subject to periodic review in accordance with the evaluation requirements of the Commonwealth Department of Finance's Financial Management Improvement Program. Products of the system will also be independently reviewed before release. Further, the State of the Environment Advisory Council will provide the Minister with regular evaluation of the processes, products and outcomes of the reporting program in light of its principles and objectives.
Establishing effective partnerships and consultative arrangements with the
large number of government and non-government groups that collect and use environmental
information is one of the key priorities of the state of the environment reporting
framework. Without the support of these groups the reporting program will not
be successful. Such partnerships and arrangements will be based on the premise
of mutual benefit.
Partnerships will cover a number of matters of shared interest; for example,
In addition to specific partnership arrangements, the process of consultation that has led to the development of this framework will be continued throughout the life of the reporting system. It will be expanded and formalised to ensure systematic development and review of reports. The following paragraphs describe the roles of the various groups and organisations relevant to state of the environment reporting; Figure 5 shows the consultative arrangements of the State of the Environment Reporting Unit.
It will be of long-term benefit if all participating governments coordinate their activities to minimise duplication of resources and effort and seek consistency and compatibility whenever possible.
Consultation between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories is occurring
through ANZECC in the first instance. The ANZECC Standing Committee resolved
in March 1993 to establish a Taskforce on State of the Environment Reporting.
This will facilitate cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States and
Territories in developing their respective environmental reporting activities;
it will also facilitate the establishment of partnership agreements with specific
State and Territory government agencies.
The State of the Environment Advisory Council, representing a broad range of expert and community interests, will help shape and oversee the state of the environment reporting program. Membership of the Advisory Council is primarily drawn from outside government and includes eminent persons from the conservation movement, industry, the scientific community (including CSIRO), academia, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Members will be appointed by the Minister on the basis of merit and standing in community and professional circles.
The role of the Advisory Council is as follows:
The credibility of state of the environment reporting depends on its accuracy, relevance and impartiality. Expert reference groups will provide a mechanism for identifying important issues and the kinds of information needed to report on them, and they will prepare and review reporting products to ensure their scientific accuracy and independence.
The reference groups will be made up of experts drawn from the academic and
research community and government and non-government scientific, technical and
professional groups. They will work in close association with the State of the
Environment Reporting Unit throughout the drafting of reports and will provide
expert advice on special projects as required. Ad hoc technical working groups
can be established when necessary.
The State of the Environment Reporting Unit is located within the Environment Strategies Directorate of the Department of the Environment, Sports and Territories. The Unit will establish collaborative arrangements with other parts of the Department in order to ensure the effective sharing of information and resources and to develop a consistent, portfolio-wide approach to state of the environment reporting.
The Unit will also consult widely with other relevant Commonwealth departments to ensure that a consistent approach to state of the environment matters is encouraged and that information about relevant issues, policies and programs is distributed and discussed. Formal collaborative partnerships will be established with specific Commonwealth agencies as required; for example, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Bureau of Resource Sciences and CSIRO.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics is the principal source of socio-economic statistical information in Australia. The Bureau is also involved in the collation and publication of environmental statistics. This work is directly related to state of the environment reporting. The State of the Environment Reporting Unit will work closely with the Bureau in the collection, analysis and reporting of environmental information.
The Bureau of Resource Sciences is located within the Department of Primary Industries and Energy. Two of the Bureau's core functions are to assess and report on the status of Australia's agriculture, minerals, energy, forestry and fisheries resources, with special reference to trends in their quality, quantity and distribution, and to facilitate access to and improve use of resource information at the national level. These functions are directly relevant to state of the environment reporting, and the State of the Environment Reporting Unit will work closely with the Bureau on relevant programs.
CSIRO has substantial expertise and experience relevant to state of the environment reporting. It is anticipated that it will have a continuing, important role in the development of the system and its products. Partnerships that draw on this expertise will be developed across a range of relevant areas.
Other organisations involved in environmental data collection, such as the
Australian Land Information Group and the Australian Centre for Remote Sensing,
are also potential partners.
Local government authorities in some States and Territories have legislative
responsibilities for state of the environment reporting (see Part One); the
State of the Environment Reporting Unit will therefore consult with national
and State local government associations and with specific local authorities,
to identify areas of common interest and concern and to develop options for
capacity building. For example, in developing environmental indicators, account
should be taken of local government statutory and community reporting requirements
and of the difference in scale between the local and national reporting processes.
Moreover, many local governments have limited resources to meet new reporting
needs, so it is advisable to develop cost-effective and consistent approaches
that use existing information sources effectively and that identify areas of
Australia has international responsibilities relevant to state of the environment reporting and a number of Commonwealth departments represent the Government at international forums on a range of relevant environment and natural resource matters.
The Environment Information, Science and Reporting Branch of the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories provides the principal coordination point for matters associated with state of the environment reporting and other programs connected with such reporting.
Australian interest in and contributions to the development of state of the environment reporting are maintained by involvement in a range of international forums, among them the following:
If state of the environment reporting is to be relevant and responsive to users, effective mechanisms for public consultation are necessary. Public workshops, technical working group meetings, and public comment on discussion papers and technical reports will be features of the system.
Opinion polling has proved a valuable initial means of identifying environmental
issues of broad public concern. The ANOP study commissioned by the Department
of the Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories in 1991 forms a significant
base on which further assessment of community perceptions of environmental issues
can be undertaken. This study is currently being repeated. In addition, research
by Quantum and other surveys will help the State of the Environment Reporting
Unit to gain responses to known environmental questions and identify issues
worthy of examination in reports or special studies.
Conferences and workshops are a valuable mechanism for disseminating information
and obtaining comment on work in progress and new initiatives. The State of
the Environment Reporting Unit will convene such forums.
Mr Don Blesing
Mr Brian Boyd
Victorian Trades Hall Council
Professor Peter Cullen
Facility of Applied Science
University of Canberra
Ms Joan Domicelj
Ms Nicola Pain
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories
Dr Roy Green
CSIROInstitute of Natural Resources and Environment
Dr David James
Ecoservices Pty Ltd
Dr William Jonas
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Mr Michael Kennedy
Ausworld Publications Pty Ltd
Associate Professor Ian Lowe
School of Science
Mr Oleg Morozow
Manager, Environmental Affairs
Mr John Towns
ANI-Kruger Pty Ltd
Ms Virginia Walsh
Australian Library and Information Association
Professor David Yencken
School of Environmental Planning
University of Melbourne
To contact the Council, write to:
Mr Allan Haines
State of the Environment Advisory Council
Strategic and Economic Analysis Branch
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
The Convention of the World Meteorological Organization, ratified by Australia in 1948, commits Australia to international cooperation in monitoring, research and data exchange in respect of the atmosphere, oceans and inland waters.
The Framework Convention on Climate Change, ratified by Australia in 1992, has a strong focus on research, data collection and monitoring and commits countries to periodic reporting on their greenhouse gas emissions and sinks.
The Vienna Convention, and subsequent Montreal Protocol, for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, ratified by Australia in 1990, have a strong focus on research, data collection, monitoring and periodic reporting in their commitment to control ozone-depleting emissions of chlorofluorocarbons, halons, carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, acceded to by Australia in May 1992, requires tracking of imports and exports of hazardous wastes.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by Australia in 1993, has a strong focus on research, data collection, monitoring and periodic reporting in its commitment to protect the biological diversity of the planet.
The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, ratified by Australia in 1974, requires annual monitoring reports on the management of Australia's World Heritage areas.
The Madrid Protocol on Environment Protection to the Antarctic Treaty designates Antarctica as '... a natural reserve devoted to peace and science'. When in force for Australia, it will entail environmental reporting obligations.
The London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, ratified by Australia in 1985, requires annual reports of approvals to dump or incinerate wastes and other matter at sea.
The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, ratified by Australia in 1987, requires annual reporting of incidents involving pollution from ships.
The Bonn Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance also have reporting requirements.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea comes into force in November 1994. Although yet to ratify this important Convention, Australia already implements some of its most important provisions. The Convention entails reporting obligations.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development created a high-level
Commission on Sustainable Development, which will consider national reports
on implementation of Agenda 21, the principal program arising from the Conference,
and investigate ways to improve the collection and dissemination of environmental
data at the global level.
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