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Publications archive - Ecologically Sustainable Development


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Are We Sustaining Australia? Report Against Headline Sustainabilty Indicators

Environment Australia, 2002
ISBN 0 642 54771 8

Overview of National Sustainability

This Report examines data against a set of headline indicators of ecologically sustainable development. Collectively these indicators represent a way of assessing, over time, whether we are maintaining and enhancing the economic and social services and institutions which are necessary for our individual and community well-being while, at the same time, maintaining the ecological systems on which all life depends.

The indicators in this Report provide a base line against which future trends towards or away from the objectives of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD) can be measured. The NSESD was agreed to by all Australian governments in 1992, and contains the only set of objectives of sustainability which have been agreed by all Australian governments. If the values identified are considered to be the key elements of individual and community well-being, economic development and the maintenance of biodiversity and ecological systems, a decline against any one of these indicators may be interpreted as an indication that our way of life is not sustainable. Maintenance or improvements against all the indicators would suggest that our way of life is sustainable. However, supplementary data should be consulted before any firm conclusions are drawn either way.

From the data available, it is possible to conclude that we are generally achieving the first two parts of the first objective of the NSESD. We are enhancing most aspects of individual and community well-being and welfare by following a path of economic development.

While significant inequities still exist in the distribution of well-being within the current generation, on the basis of the very small number of indicators chosen, the distribution of well-being within the current generation seems to be becoming more equitable. We seem to be moving towards achieving the first part of the second objective of the NSESD of providing for equity within the current generation.

However, our progress against the following aspects of the objectives is not clear.

None of these can be achieved unless the ecological processes on which life depends are protected, and unless the natural resources on which economic and community well-being depend are managed sustainably. We do not have sufficient trend information yet in relation to the ecological and natural resource management indicators, to determine whether or not this is the case. There are also limited time series data for the environmental and some of the social aspects of individual and community well-being.

In other words, it is not clear whether this enhancement of individual and community well-being is sustainable. This Report provides a snapshot against which future trends can be compared. Subsequent reports against the headline indicators will begin to answer these questions.