Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Professor Peter W. Newton, CSIRO Building, Construction and Engineering, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06747 7
Human settlements are where all Australians live, where 95% work and where over 90% of the nation's GDP is generated. Their design, planning, construction and operation are fundamental to the productivity and competitiveness of the economy, the quality of life of all citizens, and the ecological sustainability of the continent.
Human settlement in Australia dates back at least 50 000 years (State of the Environment Advisory Council 1996 p.ES-11) to an Indigenous population engaged in hunting and gathering. With the arrival of Europeans a little over 200 years ago, the first in a series of major global social, economic and technological processes were unleashed which continue to shape and reshape human settlements in this country through the manner in which people live and work (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Settlement transitions.
Source: Newton (2000)
The early permanent settlements in Australia were linked to agricultural production, with primary production occurring in the hinterland regions of the colonial capitals. Each colonial capital developed largely independently before Federation in 1901, laying the foundation for metropolitan primacy that continues for the most part to the present. Movement was powered by human or animal energy, and the spatial scale of human settlement development was determined by the distance and time taken to walk within the town or to travel the fields. What manufacturing and service activities there were, were conducted within the settlements, often as cottage industries. Urban form was essentially contained in a residential sense, but dispersed in terms of the bulk of employment activity. Infrastructure networks were minimal. Over time, further coastal settlements evolved as ports and as focuses for transport linkages with their hinterlands. But the colonial capitals became the dominant hubs as a truly core-periphery form of settlement evolved.
The Industrial Revolution caused a major change in urban scale, form, activities, lifestyle and consequent settlement patterns. The substitution of mechanical force and fossil energies for human labour and craftsmanship led to mass production of goods, a centralised concentration of production activities, and the need for mass transport of the increased labour concentrations that developed. There were changes in employment conditions to more formal employment practices. As Ryan (1980 p.202) described it in the context of the USA's industrialisation and urbanisation:
'The concentrated nature of fossil fuels had the effect of organizing American life in a more concentrated physical and social structure ... Larger production units necessitated gathering larger quantities of the factors of production - labour, materials, machinery, and services - into a relatively small area around factories. This resulted in the growth of urban centers, and people left the site of the former energy source, rural America for the economic advantages of the centers where the new fuel was used, the city. Social concentration grew out of physical concentration in the form of crowding in cities, the accumulation of wealth in large organizations, and the greater political power these organizations exercised in national affairs.'
Rail transport enabled the growth of larger cities and their suburbs. In cities with railways, employment was concentrated in the city core, and residential areas were more dispersed. The city was essentially single-centred, with radial, fixed rail transport reinforcing the concentration of employment in the core.
Automation and associated labour productivity have continued to occur since World War II, with a shift to a service-based economy initially centred around personal and community services, but increasingly around information and transactional services. At its height, the 'services' era saw major suburbanisation of retail and other personal and social services in association with the increased personal mobility offered by the automobile.
Since the early 1970s, rapid development of telecommunications, information technologies and fast transport, and the shift to an information economy, is producing further changes in scale and form, including the reversal of several previous trends.
A significant feature, however, is that the time people are prepared to spend travelling to and from work has remained remarkably invariant throughout settlement history (Marchetti 1992). With this essentially constant travel time budget (on average, 30 minutes commuting either way between residence and workplace), the size of the city has been influenced by the distance which can be travelled within that time budget. Thus, with each transition, an increase in travel speed has been provided by new technology, and this has facilitated an increase in urban scale, with transition from walking city to transit city to automobile city to (in the future) telematic city. With continued growth in telework and e-commerce, prospects for a new space-economy begin to emerge, especially for those sectors of business activity where the constraints of 'being there', distance and conventional travel are significantly weaker.
The increased importance of information to urban and regional economies is evident from the continued growth of the information sector in the Australian economy (Table 1). In this transition, cities assume even greater significance than previously, as reflected in increasing rates of urbanisation on a global scale. Their transformation has been one from the centres of production and distribution of material goods, to centres of information exchange, service production and consumption as well as manufacturing.
|Year||Rural||Mining||Manufacturing||Tertiary servicesB||Information servicesC|
ABased on 1968 Australian Standard Industrial Classification; employees whose industry is unknown or unclassified are excluded from percentage calculations.
BASIC divisions D, E, F, G and L.
CASIC divisions H, I, J and K.
Source: Rich (1987 p.42), updated using ABS Census of Population and Housing.
In other words, a transition from an economic landscape dominated by 'old economy' industries to one where 'new economy' information and knowledge-based industries and occupations will increasingly feature as the key engines of 21st century economies.
Following a sharp recession that began at the end of the 1980s and lasted into the early 1990s, the remainder of the 1990s saw the real rate of growth of gross domestic product (GDP) average 4% per year - rates not sustained since the 1960s (INDECS 1995 p.26, Dowrick 1999, Macfarlane 2000). Consumption increased at a similar rate. GDP growth in per capita and absolute terms provides a measure of the strength of Australia's market economy. However, there are concerns about the representativeness of GDP as an indicator of national well-being, as it fails to embrace all three dimensions of triple bottom line (sustainability) reporting: economic, environment and equity. Despite the current period of sustained growth, significant progress has not been made towards addressing the unemployment rate, inequality in the distribution of income continues, and Indigenous Australians continue to lag almost a century behind non-Indigenous Australians in a range of health and welfare indicators. In addition, significant urban environmental problems continue to emerge (indoor air quality, drinking water quality, interruptions to energy supply, transport safety etc.) and there is a failure of metropolitan, non-metropolitan, rural and remote settlement to equally capture the benefits of national economic growth (Lloyd et al. 2000, Garnaut et al. 2001). Perhaps it is not surprising then that, when Australians were asked how they thought people and conditions (social, economic, environmental) in general fared during the 1990s, between one-third and one-half of those surveyed responded that they believed 'life is getting worse' (Eckerley 1999, 2000).
The genuine progress indicator (GPI) has been advanced by Hamilton (1998) as providing a new experimental measure of sustainable national well-being via its accommodation of factors currently unaccounted for in the GDP such as: income distribution; value of household work; costs of unemployment; and various other social and environmental costs. Figure 2 shows the change in GPI as compared with GDP. The significant divergence over the past 20 years indicates, according to Hamilton (1997 p.47), that 'continued growth in Australia is relying ever more heavily on the run-down of stocks of built, social and natural capital'. The GPI approach represents an innovative way of linking an aggregate performance measure of national well-being to sustainability principles that are relevant for SoE reporting.
Figure 2: GDP and GPI per capita, 1950-2000 (constant 1989-1990 prices). [HS Indicator 0.2]
Source: Australia Institute
There are two contexts in which human settlements may be considered for the purpose of SoE reporting: through their direct and indirect impacts on the physical environment, and through the fact that human settlements constitute a significant 'environment' in their own right. Monitoring of human settlements must consider both the internal environment of the settlement itself and its success in delivering desirable outcomes to its inhabitants while minimising problems and undesirable effects, as well as the effect that the settlement has on the wider physical environment through resource use and waste outputs (Newton et al. 1998 p.3).
State of the environment reporting, as originally defined (OECD 1994) and as applied in several countries (e.g. Canada), tends to marginalise the human dimension, with key issues such as energy consumption, transportation, waste generation, population growth and lifestyle patterns relegated to 'pervasive influencing factors'.
In seeking a conceptual framework within which SoE reporting on Australian human settlements could be based, the State of the Environment Advisory Council (1996) developed the Extended Urban Metabolism Model (EUMM). It is a useful composite model: it accommodates the key sustainability concepts (triple bottom line dimensions), it is goal-based (viz. reduce resource inputs and draw-down on endowments, increase liveability, reduce waste and emissions, improve urban processes), it is capable of accommodating performance indicators and targets (e.g. standards, benchmarks), it is representative of the key urban sectors (e.g. housing, health, transport), and it is systems based, enabling the representation of causal linkages (driving forces - pressures - condition - implications - response) as well as dynamic processes related to sustainability, viz. endowments → processes → outputs (see US Inter-agency Working Group on Sustainable Development Indicators at http://venus.hq.nasa.gov/iwgsdi ). This model is represented diagrammatically in Figure 3, and forms the framework for this report.
Figure 3: Extended urban metabolism model for SoE reporting on human settlements.
Source: Adapted from State of the Environment Advisory Council (1996) and Alberti (1996)
Following an introductory section which reports on the key dimensions of Australia's settlement hierarchy, the first substantive section of the report focuses upon urban stocks and processes. It reports on the nation's principal stocks - population, materials, energy etc. - and the manner in which processes of supply and demand affect the draw-down on these endowments. The unique mix of production, consumption and governance characterising each urban centre will dictate the signature of outputs for that settlement on three levels. Firstly, liveability: human well-being captures several key human 'environments' - the home environment, the work environment, and the activity space (accessibility, mobility) of individuals and households. The section clearly illustrates how geographic or settlement processes distribute population on the basis of affordability and access - two key factors affecting the health and well-being of populations. Secondly, liveability: environmental quality recognises that urban populations are also directly affected by the quality of their immediate physical environment, in this report measured primarily via indoor air quality, noise, water quality and food quality. Thirdly, waste, recycling and reuse captures the ecological impact that urban activity has on the immediate and hinterland regions of human settlements. In this report there is no assessment of the wider ecological footprints of particular Australian settlements. These can be found in Simpson et al. (1998, 2000) and Close and Foran (1998). Wastewater, stormwater and solid waste streams are examined in the context of the extent to which each are being harnessed as a resource, as opposed to being considered as waste.
Within each section, the pressure - state - response - implications model of environmental assessments is followed to the extent possible for human settlements. The complexity of the urban-environmental linkages are such that they become more or less evident from different 'views': a settlement view will reveal variability from a national 'average' on the basis of scale, access, remoteness, climate, political jurisdiction; a sectoral view will reveal differences from one sector of the economy to another (e.g. domestic versus commercial versus industrial) as well as from one industry class to another; and a population view will reveal divergences from a national norm due to socio-economic factors, ethnicity, age, workforce status etc. As an example, and in relation to attitudes of Australians to the environment, most recent surveys indicate that over 70% of the population show some level of concern about the environment (see Table 2), but the levels of concern can change over time.
|Environmental concern||1992||1996||1999||1999 metro||1999 non-metro|
|Destruction of trees/ecosystems||32.8||23.6||21.1||22.0||19.6|
|Toxic chemicals/hazardous waste||21.3||8.6||11.0||10.7||11.5|
|Destruction of animals/wildlife||19.3||9.1||7.8||8.0||7.4|
|Conservation/preservation of resources||15||6.5||7.1||7.2||7.1|
|Irresponsible urban developmentA||12.6||5.9||6.1||6.6||5.2|
|Use of pesticides||13.7||4.2||5.6||4.9||6.9|
|Uranium mining/radioactive materials||8.5||5.1||5.6||5.9||5.0|
AIn 1992 and 1996 these categories were combined under the heading 'urban development/overpopulation'.
BNot recorded in 1992.
Sources: ABS (1994a, 1999a).
Key trends to emerge are a general decline in concern for the environment during the 1990s, with more metropolitan residents being concerned about environmental issues than were non-metropolitan residents across all issues, except for some that are primarily rural in nature, such as soil erosion/salinity, use of pesticides, and disposal of hazardous wastes.
Many of the leading environmental concerns listed constitute the key theme reports in 2001 State of Environment Australian reporting, namely air pollution (Atmosphere Report), freshwater pollution (Inland Waters Report), ocean/sea pollution (Coasts and Oceans Report), destruction of trees/ecosystems/animals (Biodiversity Report), ozone layer, greenhouse (Atmosphere Report), soil erosion/salinity (Land Report), and can be linked to the pressures exerted by population, industry and urban settlement on the natural environment.