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1370.0.55.001 - Measures of Australia's Progress: Summary Indicators, 2011  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 06/10/2011   
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Environment

Australia's natural environment is fundamental to the quality of life and wellbeing of Australians, as well as providing key inputs to the economy. Until recently there has been a tendency to take clean water, clean air and natural attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef for granted. However, increasing population and economic pressures have caused many people to be increasingly concerned about the state of both the Australian and wider global environment.

In this commentary, progress refers to a reduction in threats to the natural environment and improvements in the health of our ecosystems.

The headline dimensions that help Australians assess whether our environment has progressed include:

Our plants, animals and ecosystems bring important economic and social benefits and Australia's unique environmental assets are recognised globally. Native vegetation has cultural, aesthetic and recreational importance to many Australians. Most importantly, the ways in which organisms interact with each other and their environment are important to human survival: we rely on ecosystems that function properly for clean air and water and healthy soil.

Soil resources are an important natural asset. Degraded soil affects agricultural productivity, wildlife habitat and water quality.

Water is fundamental to the survival of people and other organisms. Apart from drinking water, much of our economy (agriculture in particular) relies on water. The condition of freshwater ecosystems has a critical impact on the wider environment, especially for sustaining native wildlife and vegetation.

Our beaches, estuaries and wider marine ecosystems play an important role in Australian life. The oceans support a vast array of marine life and many of our marine ecosystems are globally important, such as the Great Barrier Reef which is the largest coral reef system in the world.

The atmosphere surrounding our planet plays a role in supporting life on earth: oxygen is required to sustain living animals; a layer of ozone shields us from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun; and greenhouse gases, predominantly carbon dioxide, maintain the surface temperature of the earth at levels that can sustain life. Poor air quality has a range of negative impacts: it can cause health problems, damage infrastructure, reduce crop yields and harm plants and animals. Greenhouse gases and air pollution occur both naturally and as a result of human activities.

Waste is a by-product of many human activities. Many economic activities generate waste - solid, liquid and gaseous wastes are a by-product of many productive processes, and goods (or their packages) may be discarded by consumers. Waste can be expensive to deal with, can have a damaging impact on the environment, and can affect peoples health and wellbeing.

The presentation of these dimensions is largely consistent with other major environmental reports, most notably the State of the Environment report produced five yearly under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999 (EPBC Act).

 

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