12 Future reporting

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.

Future reporting

Australia state of the environment 2011 presents an assessment of the state of the Australian environment, and the risks and future it faces. We hope that our ambitions and innovations in grading and projecting outlooks for the environment offer a clear perspective and a new model for subsequent reports. Feedback to the State of the Environment (SoE) 2011 Committee is appreciated in this regard, and will be preserved and available to those charged with producing SoE 2016.

Australia is positioned for a revolution in environmental monitoring and reporting. Researchers are adding to the amount of environmental information at an accelerating pace. Decision-makers are increasingly expected to bring that information to bear upon policy development, management practices and resource allocation. Improved national data collection and use of alternative data sources are vital for understanding and effectively managing important aspects of Australia’s environmental and cultural systems.

As well as the data collected by government for reporting and management purposes, a substantial amount of environmental data is collected by the private sector for a variety of purposes. However, little of this information makes its way into consolidated national systems. A significant exception is the private–public partnership that operates in the geosciences, where exploration data have to be lodged with government, and eventually become publicly available. Of particular value would be partnerships with the resources sector, which collects rich datasets on our coastal and marine environments (where publicly available data are particularly scarce) as part of its environmental approvals and compliance processes; and the agricultural sector, where industry consultants collect a wide variety of environmental datasets on soil, water and pests.

However, collecting information is not enough. Creating and using systems that allow efficient access to environmental information remain a great national-scale challenge. Such systems would allow scientists and managers to analyse and make connections in the data, so that they can begin to understand the links among various aspects of ecological processes. It is also important that socioeconomic data relevant to environmental issues are available, so that connections between the environment and society can be understood. Finally, the usefulness of environmental and related data will be magnified if it can be effectively transformed into information products that are meaningful to a broad audience and relevant to the issues of today and tomorrow.

Innovations are being developed that focus on these environmental information challenges. Many of these are technical in nature: more intelligent and powerful monitoring, increased standardisation of measurement and reporting systems, and better data management and environmental modelling platforms. Other innovations will be in the policy domain, where national commitments to standardise and share environmental data between jurisdictions and industry offer significant value to environmental management. Some of the most significant innovations will be in how changes in environmental conditions are tracked—for example, through community-based environmental accounting, or through a national commitment to a set of benchmarks and standards for environmental and sustainability indicators. The Australian Government has a vital leadership role in this process.

Better information, combined with evidence-based decision-making, will support better management. The environmental changes and challenges likely in the coming decades bring with them the need not only for wise decision-making but also for humility and acknowledgement of uncertainties. As society’s ability to shape the environment increases, so does the risk of getting it wrong. In the coming decades, robust research and monitoring will help anticipate and deal with challenges and bring about positive outcomes for the Australian environment.

The SoE 2011 Committee encourages this innovation and commitment to increasing the value derived from environmental monitoring and reporting against agreed benchmarks and standards. We are convinced that it is an important key to improving the outlook for the state of the Australian environment.