ROLE OF THE ABS
Compiling and disseminating statistics and information relating to environmental issues
The ABS is established in legislation as the central statistical authority for the Australian government, and by arrangement with the State and Territory governments. In this role the ABS collects, compiles, analyses and disseminates statistics and related information, including statistics related to environmental issues.
Although the ABS environmental program has been established for some time, budget constraints limit its extent and there are significant gaps, in both content and the frequency of statistics. Natural resource management and water use relating to agriculture is reasonably well served, but significant statistical gaps exist in water more generally, energy-related environmental aspects, waste, non-agricultural natural resource management, and the production and use of environmental goods and services.
The ABS also has a legislated role to ensure statistical coordination across Government to avoid duplication while maximising the utilization, compatibility and integration of statistics compiled by official bodies. To undertake this coordination role the ABS is required to formulate and ensure compliance with statistical standards by advising and assisting official bodies in relation to statistics. Environmental-economic accounts are the key ABS contribution to a national environment information system.
Integrating the environmental and economic information systems
A comprehensive national environmental information system should be built on two pillars – first, the essential bio-physical information pertaining to the state of the environment, and second, the complementary socio-economic information on drivers, pressures, impacts and responses. The pillars should be ‘integrated’ to ensure that the bio-physical and socio-economic dimensions of environmental issues can be considered concurrently in policy formulation and other decision making. Integration is achieved by the use of common frameworks, classifications and standards. The information in each pillar should be organised so that, for the environmental domain of interest, users could seamlessly move from the bio-physical aspects to the socio-economic aspects and vice versa.
This implies that there should be a common logic for organising both the bio-physical and socio-economic information. Such logic could be built around the various environmental domains (e.g. water, air, land) organised in a driver-pressure-state-impact-response framework. The integration of information would also ensure that environmental issues that cut across domains, such as biodiversity & EPE can be analysed.
Figure 2: The DPSIR framework
The physical stores of information could be disparate, with the expectation that much of the bio-physical information would be stored by the BoM and much of the socio-economic information stored by the ABS. However, the information for both pillars should be discoverable and accessible through a single portal. So from a user perspective, there would be a single virtual information system, although within this system the source of particular information sets would be clearly identifiable.
To develop such a virtual information system and to achieve integration, the ABS and BoM would work in partnership. This would involve working together on relevant frameworks, standards and classifications, as well as the underlying logic for organising environmental information, including determining appropriate metadata requirements. Developing and maintaining the portal would be a joint responsibility of the two agencies.
Figure 3: Integrating information systems – primary institutional responsibilities
1 Treasury, ABS, ABARE, PC, PM&C, DRET, state/territory organisations, etc
2 DEWHA, BoM, DCCEE, Geoscience, CSIRO, MDBA, BRS, state/territory organisations, etc