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Publications archive - Ecologically Sustainable Development

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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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


Executive Summary

The indicators in this Report aim to measure national performance against the core objectives of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD). The indicator set has been developed in consultation with all Commonwealth agencies, other jurisdictions, key stakeholders and the general public. The set is not intended to be comprehensive but rather to give a broad view, reflecting on a wide range of issues with a relatively small amount of information.

The indicators must be read as a set. While each individual indicator may reflect important issues in its own right, none of the indicators, read in isolation, tells us much about sustainability. Only read together, and over time, will they tell us whether the things we need and value are being sustained without eroding other things we need or value - and hence whether our way of life is becoming sustainable.

Framework for the indicator set

The NSESD commits all Australian governments to the following three core objectives:

For each of these objectives, a set of "values" has been identified, each value representing one key aspect of the objective. Collective desirable trends against all of the values identified against an objective would be generally indicative that the objective is being achieved.

The first objective has been divided into two sections: direct aspects of individual and community well-being (including aspects of environmental well-being) and aspects of economic development (including aspects of natural resource management).

The second objective of the NSESD relates to both inter and intra generational equity. However, the Report includes no specific indicators of inter-generational equity. The indicator set, as a whole, is designed to tell us over time whether we are maintaining biodiversity and ecological processes, all aspects of human well-being, and an equitable distribution of these within the current population; therefore the set as a whole and over time will tell us whether we are ensuring inter-generational equity.

Intra-generational equity is measured using several indicators of the distribution of various aspects of well-being to traditionally disadvantaged sub-groups relative to the general population.

Additionally, three contextual indicators relating to population issues have been identified. These indicators do not, of themselves, indicate performance against the values identified for each objective, but they do provide the context in which the "value" indicators need to be read.

Organisation of report

This Report is organised to reflect the values which have been identified as relating to each core objective of the NSESD. A rationale for the inclusion of the value against that objective has been provided. For each value, one or more indicators has been identified. The rationale for selection of the indicator, along with any explanation of what the indicator means, if needed, is given. An explanation of what the data themselves mean, and any useful elaborative or trend information relating to the data is then provided.

Selection of indicators

Each indicator in this set is selected as the most representative, significant or comprehensible from a much more extensive parent set, such as SoE reporting or ABS publications, or the National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA). The chosen indicator is only one of many that might have been selected. The parent set is the data source for the indicator and also provides the context in which data for the indicator have been collected. The Report references the source and parent set of each headline indicator.

As far as possible, all the indicators which have been chosen are:

Supplementary indicators

A list of supplementary indicators which may provide check points for whether the headline indicator is giving the whole story is also provided, but data against these supplementary indicators are not provided in this report.

Purpose of this report

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.

It is not possible from this first Report to assess whether or not our way of life is sustainable. This is because there are no time series data as yet for several of the indicators of ecological integrity and biodiversity, and there are limited time series data for the indicators of natural resource management and for the environmental and some of the social aspects of individual and community well-being. Rather, this Report provides a snapshot against which future trends can be seen.

Summary of data

Contextual indicators: Population

Total Australian (resident) population

19 104 556

Australian population growth rate 

1.16 p

Proportion of the resident population living in urban areas

86%

Proportion of the total resident population who are working age (15-64)

67.3%

Time series data show that Australia's population has been steadily growing, ageing and concentrating itself in urban areas. In general, at the same time, per capita consumption and waste generation are increasing. Actual population trends also need to be read in the context of fertility, mortality and immigration rates.

Main Set

To enhance individual and community well-being and welfare ....

Value

Indicator

Data

Desired trend

Actual trend over last decade
(if known)

1. Living standards and economic well-being

1. Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (GNI =GDP less net income paid overseas)

$31 847

Up

Up

 

2. Gross per capita disposable income

$31 851

Up

Up

2. Education and skills

3. Percentage of people aged 25-64 who have attained upper secondary and/or attained post secondary qualifications including vocational training

64.3%

Up

Up

3. Healthy living

4. Disability adjusted years life expectancy (DALE)

71.16

Up

 

4. Air quality

5. Number of occasions where concentrations of pollutants exceeded NEPM standards for ambient air quality in major urban areas

98

Down

 
 

6. Total SOx, NOx and particulate emissions

3.6b kg

Down

 

Some time series data for indicators of progress against the objective of enhancing individual and community well-being and welfare, particularly the social and economic indicators, are available. Generally these data show that most of the aspects of our well-being that are measured by social and economic indicators are slowly improving.

More time series data on the environmental aspects of individual and community well-being are needed to determine whether we are sustaining all aspects of individual and community well-being. Additionally, indicators for social cohesion (or social capital) and community infrastructure still need to be identified and populated, to round out the picture.

....by following a path of economic development that safeguards the welfare of future generations

Value

Indicator

Data

Desired trend

Actual trend over decade
(if known)

5. Economic capacity

7. Multi-factor productivity (Gross product per combined unit of labour and capital)

1.1%

Up

Up

6. Industry performance

8. Real GDP per capita

$32 636

Up

Up

7. Economic security

(i) National Net Worth
(ii) National Net Worth per capita

$2431.40bn
$127 666

Up
Up

Up
Up

8. Management of water

10.
(i) Surface water units within 70% of sustainable yield
(ii) Ground water management units within 70% of sustainable yield


74%
60%


Up
Up

 

9. Management of forests

11. Total area of all forest type

157 m h

Up

 

10. Management of fish

12. Percentage of major Commonwealth harvested wild fish species classified as fully or under fished.

37%

Up

 

11.  Management of energy

13.
(i) Renewable energy use as a proportion of total
(ii)Total renewable and non-renewable energy use


5.8%
4858 PJ


Up


Down

12.  Management of agriculture

14. Net value of rural land (Interim indicator - Agreed indicator: 'net value of agricultural land use' not yet available)

$b111.7

Up

Up

Time series data are available for most of the economic indicators and show that, generally, our economic development is continuing in a positive direction. However, time series data will need to be examined for the natural resource management indicators for water, forests and fish before any definitive assessment can be made of whether we are sustaining our economic well-being.

To provide for equity within and between generations

Value

Indicator

Data

Desired trend

Actual trend over decade
(if known)

13. Economic and gender equity

15. Adult female full time (OT) average weekly earnings as a proportion of adult male full time (OT) average weekly earnings

84.85%

Up

Unchanged

14. Economic and educational equity

16. Percentage difference in the year 12 completion rate between bottom and top socio-economic decile

16%

Down

Down

15. Economic and health equity

17.
(i) Percentage difference in burden of life years lost due to disability between bottom and top socio-economic quintile.
(ii) Percentage difference in burden of life years lost due to mortality between bottom and top socio-economic quintile


41-45%

26-41%


Down


Down

 

16.     Locational equity

18. Percentage difference in the year 12 completion rate between urban and remote locations.

12%

Down

Down

Trend data based on this very limited set of indicators seem to show that, while significant inequities exist based on gender, socio-economic status and location, our community seems to be gradually becoming more equitable in regard to some aspects of socio-economic and locational disadvantage.

To protect biological diversity and maintain essential ecological processes and life-support

Value

Indicator

Data

Desired trend

Actual trend over last decade
(if known)

17. Biodiversity and ecological integrity

19. Extent and condition of native vegetation, freshwater habitats, coastal habitats, estuarine habitats and marine habitats including extent to which represented in reserves and non-reserve systems.  Actual indicators used:

(i) Proportion of (354) bio-geographic sub-regions with greater than 30 per cent of original vegetative cover

(ii) Proportion of (354) biogeographical sub-regions with greater than 10 per cent of the sub-region's area in protected areas





84%


26%





Up


Up

 
 

20. Number of extinct, endangered and vulnerable species and ecological communities. Actual indicators used:

(i) Number of extinct, endangered and vulnerable species
(ii) Number of endangered ecological communities




1560
23




Down
Down




Up

18. Climate change

21. Total net greenhouse gas emissions

458.2 Mt

Down

Up

19. Coastal and marine health

22. Estuarine condition index - proportion of estuaries in near pristine or slightly modified condition

72%

Up

 

20. Freshwater  health

23. Proportion of assessed sites which are with high in-stream biodiversity, based on macro-invertebrate community structure (Interim indicator - Agreed indicator: 'river condition index' not yet available)

60%

Up

 

21. Land health

24. Catchment Condition Index - proportion of assessed catchments that are in moderate or good condition

83%

Up

 

Since most of the agreed headline indicators for these values have been developed very recently, there are no time series data on which to base an assessment of whether or not we are sustaining the ecological systems on which life depends. Since European settlement, there has been a decline from 100 per cent of bio-geographic sub-regions with 100 per cent of original vegetative cover, and from 100 per cent of estuaries, rivers and catchments in pristine condition. However, in terms of what is happening now, these indicators provide baseline data only. The only indicators in this section for which time series data are available are "the number of extinct, endangered and vulnerable species" which appears to have increased by 37 per cent since 1993, and "net greenhouse gas emissions" which shows that our net emissions are still increasing. However, trends in "the number of extinct, endangered and vulnerable species" reflect the number of species which have been legally recognised as threatened or extinct and added to the list since 1993. These changes are therefore as likely to result from increased knowledge/understanding or changes in taxonomy rather than an actual increase in the number of threatened and extinct species.

Overall conclusion

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, there is some evidence that the distribution of well-being within the current generation is 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.

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.

In other words, it is not clear whether this enhancement of individual and community well-being and any trend towards increasing intra-generational equity are sustainable. Subsequent reports against the headline indicators will begin to answer these questions.