4613.0 - Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends, 2007  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 11/01/2008   
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Contents >> Population and urban trends


Australia’s estimated resident population was 20.9 million at March 2007, based on 2006 Census data. As the population continues to increase, both in numbers and in affluence, there is more pressure on the environment.

This section looks at a number of trends which are drivers of environmental change, including population growth, the age and household structure of the population, where people are living and moving to, gross domestic product (GDP) and changes in people’s expenditure.

Population growth occurs as a result of natural increase (defined as the number of births less the number of deaths) and migration patterns. Trends in natural increase and migration patterns have resulted in uneven population growth and distribution across Australian states and territories. Despite the large land area of Australia, the majority of the population is located in two widely-separated coastal regions. Where people live has environmental implications for air quality, and land and water degradation. The movement of people from rural and remote areas to cities and coastal areas has resulted in relatively high rates of land clearing for urban development. Urban expansion has caused loss of habitat for native plants and animals, reducing their numbers and geographical spread. It has also placed additional pressure on resources such as water and sewerage services. In turn, loss of vegetation cover contributes to land degradation problems including dryland salinity, weed invasion and soil erosion.

Increased waste generation and energy use are associated with an increase in population and affluence. Environmental issues associated with waste disposal include emission and leaching of pollutants (including greenhouse gas emissions), the requirement of land for landfill sites, and littering and health problems from hazardous waste. Australia’s energy use is largely based on non-renewable fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, that create greenhouse gas emissions.

Growth in the economy (as measured by GDP) is a key determinant of employment and, therefore, of the economic wellbeing of households. However, economic activity often has associated environmental costs. For example, economic activity, especially among the more energy-intensive industries, is associated with the creation of greenhouse gas emissions. Another example of environmental costs associated with economic activity is in the agriculture industry where the use of irrigation can reduce water flows and quality in rivers, thereby affecting riverine flora and fauna and human health. On the other hand, higher incomes can provide resources to address environmental issues. There is a debate about how to balance economic progress, often measured by gross domestic product (GDP), against the need to maintain resources for future generations – getting this balance right is often referred to as environmental sustainability. Depletion-adjusted GDP is a way of incorporating the depletion/damage to environmental assets that is associated with economic activity.

This section contains the following subsection :
      Economic growth

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