Environmental indicators for national state of the environment reporting

Following the release of Australia: State of the Environment 1996, a set of environmental indicators was developed for use in tracking the condition of Australia's environment, the human activities that affect it and our management of the environment.

The then Department of the Environment and Heritage commissioned reports recommending indicators for each of the seven major themes, on which national state of the environment reporting is based.

These seven environmental indicator reports recommend a total of 454 indicators to provide a consistent picture of trends in the Australian environment. Most of these indicators were tested in the production of the theme reports for the 2001 SoE reporting process. This was the first time environmental indicators were used on a national scale for SoE reporting in Australia.

Core environmental indicators

A set of 75 indicators were derived from the larger set of environmental indicators and identified as core environmental indicators. The core set of indicators was endorsed the former Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) in December 1999. The indicators cover six of the state of the environment reporting themes. A set of Natural and cultural heritage core indicators has not yet been developed.

Core indicators are being used by the Australian Government, some states, territories and local governments in their SoE reporting.

Environmental indicator reports

An eighth report deals with the use of the recommended indicators by local or regional environmental managers and with the role of the community in indicator work. It is the result of a pilot study carried out by the Australian local Government Association and the then Department of the Environment and Heritage.

Background about the Environmental Indicator Reports

The first independent and comprehensive assessment of Australia's environment was released by the former Commonwealth Environment Minister in September 1996.

The next step in the evolution of the reporting system was to develop a set of environmental indicators that, properly monitored, would help us track the condition of Australia's environment and the human activities that affect it. To help develop these indicators, the then Department of the Environment and Heritage commissioned reports recommending indicators for each of the seven major themes around which national state of the environment reporting is based. The themes are: biodiversity; the land; inland waters; estuaries and the sea; human settlements; the atmosphere; and natural and cultural heritage.

Environmental indicators are physical, chemical, biological or socio-economic measures that best represent the key elements of a complex ecosystem or environmental issue. An indicator is embedded in a well-developed interpretive framework and has meaning well beyond the measure it represents.

The set of key indicators must be the minimum set which, if properly monitored, will provide rigorous data describing the major trends in, and impacts on the Australian environment.

Report authors were asked to recommend a comprehensive set of indicators, and were not to be constrained by current environmental monitoring. One consequence of this approach is that many recommendations will not be practical to implement in the short term. They are, however, a scientific basis for longer term planning of environmental monitoring and related activities.

The advice embodied in the reports is being used to advance state of the environment reporting in Australia, and as an input to other initiatives, such as the National Land and Water Resources Audit  and the Australian Local Government Association's Regional Environmental Strategies .