State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.
At a glance
Assessing the effectiveness of biodiversity management in Australia is made difficult by a lack of clarity in many jurisdictions about specific biodiversity conservation objectives and targets.
In general, the context of most past and current pressures on biodiversity is well understood. Most jurisdictions have detailed plans and strategies to deal with most current pressures. A notable exception is planning to address the dependence, and impacts, of Australia’s human population on biodiversity and other natural resources; this remains poorly developed. Most other planning appears to be at least partly effective and improving.
Inputs and processes to address land clearing have improved greatly but it continues to be a significant pressure in some areas, and the legacy effects of past clearing are expected to continue to drive degradation and fragmentation of ecosystems for some decades. State of the environment reports from most jurisdictions have, for more than a decade, identified grazing pressures, invasive species and pathogens, altered fire regimes and changed hydrology as significant problems. Continued identification of these problems suggests that inputs or processes are not adequate to deal with these pressures (sometimes for understandable reasons). For most of these pressures, there is insufficient information to design good management or assess management effectiveness, and there is insufficient investment in filling knowledge gaps compared to the potential benefits of having that information.
A detailed assessment of the management responses to biodiversity challenges was beyond the scope of this report. Instead, we have relied on assessments made in a range of recent reports. Key documents included the SoE reports by each of the states and territories, the Assessment of Australia’s terrestrial biodiversity 200815 and the interim and final reports of the Hawke review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).30 To assess management effectiveness, we have adopted the approach outlined in Chapter 1: Approach that is based on the principles of management effectiveness applied in the Great Barrier Reef outlook report 2009.144
Conservation efforts in Australia are spread across a wide range of state and territory government programs as well as Australian Government initiatives. A national framework is provided by Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030,11 which serves as a policy umbrella over several other more specific national frameworks, including theNational Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia’s Native Vegetation (1999),b Australian Weeds Strategy (2007),145 Australian Pest Animal Strategy (2007)146 and Australia’s Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009–2030 (2009).147 The exposure draft of this latter strategy was criticised by a range of scientists.148 Among their concerns were that the strategy failed to clearly affirm some previous principles, such as commitment to a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system (this is still not mentioned in the final version), and lack of clear and measurable targets (only partly addressed in the final version). Although we acknowledge the validity of many of these criticisms, we also recognise the strong focus on promoting resilience in social–ecological systems as a means of better managing biodiversity. The success of this approach will depend strongly on the regular assessment of progress towards better biodiversity outcomes and, as discussed below, it is not clear whether adequate processes are in place to achieve such monitoring and evaluation.
In addition to government actions, conservation efforts are increasingly being provided by nongovernment groups. National assessments of management effectiveness often focus on Australian Government programs such as Caring for our Country or its predecessor, the Natural Heritage Trust, yet the investment in these programs is only around 10% of total nationwide investment. It is unrealistic to expect Australian Government programs alone to significantly improve the state of biodiversity, although they provide important catalysts for other investments at a range of spatial and temporal scales.
Australia has many opportunities for effective environmental planning and management, including opportunities to build more adaptive (polycentric) governance systems and to build on processes already emerging to deal with lack of information and a range of other pressures. Significant new opportunities might emerge from new technologies that allow pressures to be addressed more effectively, including decreasing the deleterious effects of humans on the environment further than is currently imagined, and a degree of decoupling of economic prosperity from the consumption of natural resources. Two examples that are already seen as plausible are the production of synthetic foods, including meats, and the use of next-generation mobile communication devices to allow the public to engage in the collection and reporting of environmental information.94
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