Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Dr Jann Williams, RMIT University, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06749 3
The diversity of living organisms we observe today is the product of billions of years of evolution. This biodiversity is, however, now threatened by humanity. Global trends show that human activities are destroying and degrading a diverse range of ecosystems and result in the extinction of thousands of species annually. Wilson (1992), among other leading commentators, calls this a great spasm of extinction - caused entirely by humans.
Australia has a diverse and often unique environment that represents a priceless heritage that should be a source of pride to all Australians. The Australian government is a signatory to the United Nations CBD, and Australia has a national strategy for safeguarding its biodiversity heritage. Some aspects of the Australian environment were in relatively good condition by international standards (SoE 1996) and the approach to environmental management had international recognition in some areas. The 1996 Report also demonstrated that Australia has some very serious environmental problems, the cumulative consequences of human population growth and distribution, lifestyles, technologies and demands on natural resources over the last 200 years and more. The Report suggested that changes were needed in government policies and programs, corporate practices and personal behaviour.
The estimated population of Australia when Europeans arrived varies greatly, from 300 000 to 1.5 million. Seventy years later, the European population had reached one million. By 2001, the total population approaches 20 million. These citizens and their governments, industry and community organisations have responsibility for Australia's biodiversity.
Progress towards sustainability is difficult, if not impossible, without adequate and accessible information about the environment. State of the Environment (SoE) reporting can be a powerful tool for providing this information - to the public, industry, non-government organisations (NGOs) and all levels of government. As such, SoE reporting is being embraced at the local, regional, state and national levels. It allows regular reports on agreed sets of indicators of 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. It describes the effects of human activities on the environment, and their implications for human health and economic wellbeing. It also provides an opportunity to monitor the performance of government policies against actual outcomes. Thus, SoE reporting can act as a report card on the condition of the environment and natural resource stocks.
For the 2001 national SoE Report, a suite of agreed biodiversity indicators have been developed (Saunders et al. 1998) and these are used to describe and evaluate conditions and trends in biodiversity (see Biodiversity status, trends and indicators).