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1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2013  
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Measures of Australia's Progress

Sustaining the environment

Australians aspire to manage the environment sustainably for future generations
Graph Image for Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions - Headline Progress Indicator version

Footnote(s): (a) Based on UNFCCC Inventory. (b) Million tonne of Carbon Dioxide equivalent.;(a) Based on UNFCCC Inventory. (b) Million tonne of Carbon Dioxide equivalent.;(a) Based on UNFCCC Inventory. (b) Million tonne of Carbon Dioxide Eqivalent. (c) Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry.

Source(s): Unpublished data provided by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, September 2013; Unpublished data provided by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, September 2013; Unpublished data provided by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, September 2013

Image: Cross - Regress

Managing the environment sustainably in Australia has regressed over the last decade


    Indicator: Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions

    Why is this theme important?

    Australians told us that acting to sustain the natural environment and its resources for the long term was important to business, government, communities and society. People felt that how we use the environment’s resources affects our present wellbeing and the wellbeing of future generations. In relation to this, people told us about the importance of environmental resources that provide the basis for food and industrial production. Australians supported the development of adaptive technologies and strategies to enable environmental sustainability. Many thought it was important to be aware of the impact of human activities or lifestyles on the environment, particularly those that either moderate resource depletion or threaten long term sustainability.

    How have we decided there has been regress?

    We have decided that there has been regress in managing the environment sustainably over the last decade because Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions (our headline progress indicator for managing the environment sustainably) has increased.

    In 2011, Australia emitted 547 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e). Although this was lower than a peak of 626 Mt CO2-e in 2007, it was higher than the 486 Mt CO2-e emitted in 2001.

    Why this headline progress indicator?

    Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an important part of the aspiration for managing the environment sustainably.

    Net greenhouse gas emissions is considered a good measure of progress for managing the environment sustainably because a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is likely to reflect increased efforts to combat the human impact that Australia is contributing towards climate change. Without reduced greenhouse gases, on an international scale, the negative environmental impacts of a changing climate will not only continue but increase. (Climate Commission, 2013)

    To allow for the most consistent and complete time series we have used data based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) accounting framework. We have also removed the contribution to emissions from wildfires. (Endnote 1)

    Quality assessment (see key)

    Image: Icon for 'Partial measure' This indicator is a partial measure of the concept of managing the environment sustainably as described above (based on the Aspirations for our Nation).

    Image: Icon for 'High quality' The data source is of high quality.

    Let's break it down!

    Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions in 2011 (547 Mt CO2-e) are higher than the 2001 levels, and higher than the level of emissions in 1990 (518 Mt CO2-e).

    In 2011, the Energy sector contributed the largest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions by sector (77%). This was an increase from a 56% share in 1990. The Energy sector had also shown the largest increase in amount of emissions over the period compared with other sectors (289 Mt CO2-e in 1990 and 422 Mt CO2-e in 2011, a 46% increase). Conversely, the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry sector, without the contribution of wildfires, has gone from emitting 101 Mt CO2-e to being a net sink for -5.8 Mt CO2-e in 2011. Being a 'net sink' meant that the sector was removing more CO2-e than it was emitting. A decline in emissions from forest land being converted to cropland or grassland was an important factor in the underlying trend of declining emissions for this sector since 1990 (DICCSRTE, 2013).

    Use the drop down menu on the graph to look at other breakdowns of the indicator (graphs are also available on the further info page).

    But that is not the whole story...

    There is more to managing the environment sustainably for future generations than reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the elements of managing the environment sustainably have progressed.

    Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.

    ENDNOTES

    1. We have used the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change accounting framework for Measures of Australia's Progress' net greenhouse gas emissions data. However, Australia's international emissions commitment under the Kyoto Protocol and our domestic policy responses are focused on meeting international emissions reduction commitments based on the Kyoto Protocol accounting framework, which deals with emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry sector differently than the UNFCCC accounting framework.
Graph Image for Natural capital(a) per capita, chain volume measures(b)(c)

Footnote(s): (a) Subsoil assets, land and timber are being used as an estimate of natural capital. Water, habitat and ecosystems and soil resources are not explicitly included. (b) Reference year for chain volume measure is 2010-11. (c) Note that there is a five year gap between the first two years in the graph, followed by consecutive years of data.

Source(s): ABS Information Paper: Towards the Australian Environmental-Economic Accounts, 2013 (cat. no. 4655.0.55.002)

The sustainable use of natural resources in Australia has regressed over the last decade

Indicator: Natural capital per capita, chain volume measures

Why is this element important?

Australians told us that the careful use of natural resources, which provide the basis for food and industrial production, is important because of the impacts upon the wellbeing of current and future generations.

Go to the overall progress tab and further info page for more information about managing the environment sustainably.

How have we decided there has been regress?

We have decided that the sustainable use of natural resources in Australia has regressed over the last decade because each Australian's share of the economic value of our natural capital, or natural capital per capita, (our progress indicator for the sustainable use of natural resources) has decreased.

Subsoil assets, land and timber are being used as an estimate of natural capital. Water, habitat and ecosystems and soil resources are not included.

Between 2000–01 and 2011–12, the economic value of Australia's natural capital per capita decreased by approximately $7,000, from $215,000 to $208,000.

Over the period 2000–01 and 2011–12, Australia's natural capital base actually increased in economic value, from $4,144 billion to $4,718 billion. Despite this increase in the economic value of Australia's natural capital base, an even greater increase in population over the same period meant that each Australian's share had decreased. To see progress in the sustainable use of natural resources, the growth in the economic value of Australia's natural capital would need to at least keep pace with population growth.

Why this progress indicator?

Sustainable use of Australia's natural resources is an important part of the aspiration for managing the environment sustainably.

Natural capital per capita is considered a good measure of progress for the sustainable use of natural resources because it shows how Australia's stock of natural capital is changing over time in relation to our population. A declining amount of natural capital per person is considered regress because it means reduced opportunities for future populations to receive the benefits that our natural capital base has to offer.

Another benefit of this measure is that it is a chain volume measure. This means that it removes the direct effects of price change to allow an appropriate comparison over time.

However, the measure used here only captures part of overall natural capital, i.e. the assets that have direct economic value. The development of standardised methods for identifying and separately distinguishing the value of environmental assets and ecosystem services is an on-going area of work. In addition, the use of natural capital may have certain detrimental effects such as pollution, soil degradation, salinity, pests, loss of biodiversity and habitat, declining water quality and quantity, which may not always be immediately obvious and may not be reflected in the changing economic value of natural capital (ABS, 2013).

Quality assessment (see key)

Image: Icon for 'Partial measure' This indicator is a partial measure of the sustainable use of natural resources.

Image: Icon for 'High quality' The data source is of high quality.

Let's break it down!

In 2011–12, the value of Australia's natural capital largely consisted of land (86%) and subsoil assets (14%), while timber made up less than 1% (ABS, 2013).

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to managing the environment sustainably for future generations than the sustainable use of natural resources. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of managing the environment sustainably have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.
A data gap currently exists for sustainable land use

In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

In order to capture the spirit of this idea in a measure, further development will need to be undertaken. We will continue to explore options for a suitable indicator in the future.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to managing the environment sustainably for future generations than sustainable land use. Click through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of managing the environment sustainably have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.
A data gap currently exists for sustainable water use

In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

In order to capture the spirit of this idea in a measure, further development will need to be undertaken. We will continue to explore options for a suitable indicator in the future.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to managing the environment sustainably for future generations than water use. Click through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of managing the environment sustainably have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.
Graph Image for Waste disposed per capita(a)

Footnote(s): (a) For a fairer comparison over time, Fly ash is excluded in 2008-09 (Fly ash being the largest contributor of the additional waste categories reported that year due to a change in methodology). Data for years in between Waste and Recycling in Australia reports are estimates using linear interpolation (2003-04 to 2005-06 and 2007-08).;(a) For a fairer comparison over time, Fly ash is excluded in 2008-09 (Fly ash being the largest contributor of the additional waste categories reported that year due to a change in methodology). (b) 2002-03 data not available for Tasmania and Northern Territory.

Source(s): Hyder Consulting, Waste and Recycling in Australia 2011; Hyder Consulting, Waste and Recycling in Australia 2011

Waste management in Australia has regressed since 2002-03

Indicator: Amount of waste disposed per capita

Why is this important?

Waste generation accompanies many human activities. Waste can be solid, liquid or gaseous, and comes from households, building and demolition sites and industry. Waste is expensive to deal with and can have a damaging impact on the environment, affect people’s health and influence trade in the economy.

Go to the overall progress tab and further info page for more information about managing the environment sustainably.

How have we decided there has been regress?

We have decided that waste management in Australia has regressed since 2002-03 because the amount of waste disposed per capita (our progress indicator for waste management) has increased.

In 2008-09, 1,035 kilograms of solid waste (not including fly ash) were disposed of per person in Australia. This was an increase from 907 kilograms in 2002-03. This means that we were disposing 128 more kilograms of solid waste per person in 2008-09 than we were six years before. (Endnote 1)

Why this progress indicator?

Waste management is an important part of the aspiration for managing the environment sustainably.

Waste disposed per person is considered a good measure of progress for waste management because it provides us with an indication of success in either reducing the generation of waste, or increasing the reuse and recycling of waste. However, this indicator doesn't shed light on the success of the disposal process itself in causing the least impact on the health of the environment, our population and economy.

There are some other limitations to this indicator. Although there has been improvement in the consistent collation of waste data across jurisdictions in recent years, care needs to be taken when comparing the latest estimates with previous years. Because of difficulties in measuring liquid and gaseous waste, this indicator only includes solid waste.

Quality assessment (see key)

Image: Icon for 'Partial measure' This indicator is a partial measure of waste management.

Image: Icon for 'Acceptable quality' The data source is of acceptable quality.

Let's break it down!

Over the six years to 2008-09, waste disposed per capita increased dramatically in both Queensland (from 715 to 1,159 kg per person) and Western Australia (from 1,380 to 1,827 kg per person). A drop in waste disposed per capita in South Australia is at least in part due to fly ash being included in the estimates for that State prior to 2008-09.

Looking at waste disposed per capita gives us a sense of how well our waste management system is coping, with the effect of population growth removed. However, the total amount of waste that is being disposed is also very important. Total waste disposed increased from 17.4 million tonnes to 22.6 million tonnes over the six years to 2008-09 (not including fly ash).

Use the drop down menu on the graph to look at other breakdowns of the indicator (graphs are also available on the further info page).

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to managing the environment sustainably for future generations than waste management. Click through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of managing the environment sustainably have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.

ENDNOTES

1. The best waste estimates from 2008-09 onwards include several categories of waste not previously reported - fly ash (except in South Australia), Hazardous waste (including Quarantine waste) and Biosolids. For a better comparison over time, Fly ash has been excluded from the 2008–09 estimates discussed on this page (fly ash being the largest contributor of the additional waste categories reported that year).
A data gap currently exists for adaptive technology

In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

A range of possible indicators are being considered for adaptive technology, such as looking at the proportion of energy supply that is renewable. In order to capture the spirit of this idea in a measure, further development will need to be undertaken. We will continue to explore options for a suitable indicator in the future.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to managing the environment sustainably for future generations than adaptive technology. Click through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of managing the environment sustainably have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.


A data gap currently exists for adaption strategies

In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

In order to capture the spirit of this idea in a measure, further development will need to be undertaken. We will continue to explore options for a suitable indicator in the future.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to managing the environment sustainably for future generations than adaption strategies. Click through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of managing the environment sustainably have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.
Graph Image for Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions - Progress Indicator version

Footnote(s): (a) Based on UNFCCC Inventory. (b) Million tonne of Carbon Dioxide equivalent.;(a) Based on UNFCCC Inventory. (b) Million tonne of Carbon Dioxide equivalent.;(a) Based on UNFCCC Inventory. (b) Million tonne of Carbon Dioxide Eqivalent. (c) Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry.

Source(s): Unpublished data provided by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, September 2013; Unpublished data provided by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, September 2013; Unpublished data provided by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, September 2013

Responding to climate change has regressed within Australia over the last decade, despite positive movement in recent years

Indicator: Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions

Why is this element important?

If our contribution towards a changing climate is unchecked into the future, the impacts that this is already having upon our environment will increase into the future. These impacts, including a drying of the south of Australia, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and rising sea levels, will threaten our environment and our ability to depend upon it. (Australian Government Department of the Environment, 2013)

Go to the overall progress tab and further info page for more information about managing the environment sustainably.

How have we decided there has been regress?

We have decided that responding to climate change has regressed within Australia over the last decade because Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions (our progress indicator for responding to climate change) has increased.

In 2011, Australia emitted 547 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e). Although this was lower than a peak of 626 Mt CO2-e in 2007, it was higher than the 486 Mt CO2-e emitted in 2001.

Why this progress indicator?

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an important part of the aspiration to manage the environment sustainably for future generations.

An indicator of net greenhouse gas emissions is considered a good measure of progress for responding to climate change because without reduced greenhouse gases, on an international scale, the negative environmental impacts of a changing climate will not only continue but increase (Climate Commission, 2013).

To allow for the most consistent and complete time series, we have used data based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) accounting framework. We have also removed the contribution to emissions from wildfires. (Endnote 1)

Quality assessment (see key)

Image: Icon for 'Partial measure' This indicator is a partial measure of responding to climate change.

Image: Icon for 'High quality' The data source is of high quality.

Let's break it down!

Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions in 2011 (547 Mt CO2-e) are higher than the 2001 levels, and higher than the level of emissions in 1990 (518 Mt CO2-e).

In 2011, the Energy sector contributed the largest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions by sector (77%). This was an increase from a 56% share in 1990. The Energy sector had also shown the largest increase in amount of emissions over the period compared with other sectors (289 Mt CO2-e in 1990 and 422 Mt CO2-e in 2011, a 46% increase). Conversely, the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry sector, without the contribution of wildfires, has gone from emitting 101 Mt CO2-e to being a net sink for -5.8 Mt CO2-e in 2011. Being a 'net sink' meant that the sector was removing more CO2-e than it was emitting. A decline in emissions from forest land being converted to cropland or grassland was an important factor in the underlying trend of declining emissions for this sector since 1990 (DICCSRTE, 2013).

Use the drop down menu on the graph to look at other breakdowns of the indicator (graphs are also available on the further info page).

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to managing the environment sustainably than responding to climate change. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of managing the environment sustainably have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.

ENDNOTES

1. We have used the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change accounting framework for Measures of Australia's Progress' net greenhouse gas emissions data. However, Australia's international emissions commitment under the Kyoto Protocol and our domestic policy responses are focused on meeting international emissions reduction commitments based on the Kyoto Protocol accounting framework, which deals with emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry sector differently than the UNFCCC accounting framework

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