4613.0 - Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/07/2001   
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July 16, 2001
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)
Our environment - a bird's eye view

Australians are among the highest consumers, and as a consequence, producers of waste on earth, using more energy than ever before - mostly from fossil fuels - while our land, air, forests and rivers are suffering. Yet, while most Australians are concerned about the environment, in 1999 only 9 per cent of adult Australians ranked environmental problems as their most important social issue.

These are some of many findings on Australia's environment, assembled in the first edition of a new Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publication, Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends (cat. no. 4613.0), released today.

On the positive side:
  • A range of legislative mechanisms are in place to help Australia manage its environment. Government and business are spending millions of dollars to protect and manage the environment - for example, Natural Heritage Trust funding will amount to around $1.5 billion between 1996-97 and 2001-02;
  • plantations are providing more timber than native forests;
  • More than 22 per cent of tall eucalypt, mangrove and rainforests are in conservation reserves and some 774,000 hectares of land are protected by agreements between landowners and government;
  • a total of 851 wetlands were recognised as nationally important in latest edition of the Directory of Important Wetlands (Environment Australia 2001);
  • There has been a cap on diversions in the Murray-Darling Basin, and fish restocking;
  • Lead pollution has fallen and air pollution is capital cities is not getting worse.

But Australians consume more energy, products and services per person than ever before, with our rate of consumption rising.

The total energy used in 1998 (including exports of energy products, such as black coal and uranium) was 2.8 times the total energy used in 1978, when the population grew 1.3 times in the same period.

Most of our energy comes from fossil fuels, with oil, coal and gas providing 94 per cent of energy consumed in Australia: between 1990 and 1998 Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions rose by just under 17 percent.

Agriculture, which has profoundly altered Australia's landscape during the last 200 years, occupies around 60 per cent of the nation's land area. As a result of our activities, Australia is facing serious land degradation issues, such as weed invasion: there are about 3000 weed species in Australia, 370 of which are noxious. In 1999, dryland salinity affected 2.5 million hectares.

During the 1990s, national water consumption rose from 18,575 gigalitres in 1993-94 to 22,186 gigalitres in 1996-97. Meanwhile, the construction of large dams, introduction of exotic species, such as carp, land clearing, and extraction of water, have left many of our inland rivers in poor condition.

Some 97 per cent of the volume of trade in Australia is carried by ships, making Australian waters susceptible to introduction of exotic marine species. Already, at least 250 known species have been introduced .

More facts and figures reported in Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends (cat. no. 4613.0).
  • The world's population was around 5.9 billion in 1998: Australia's population of about 19 million represented only 0.3 per cent of this total, however, our per capita consumption levels and waste production are among the highest in the world (page 3 and page 10).
  • Renewable energy consumed as a percentage of total energy consumed fell slightly between 1977-78 and 1997-98 (from 7 to 6 per cent of primary energy consumed).
  • In 1998-99, local government in Australia spent $2.8 billion on environment related activities (page 17).
  • Just over half of the dollar value of agricultural production comes from less than 5 per cent of agricultural land (page 28).
  • Between 1788 and 1997 70 per cent of South Australia's native forests were cleared, the largest percentage of any of the States/Territories (page 33).
  • In the period from 1954 to 1994 the number of large dams in Australia increased six-fold (page 75).
  • Australia has around 195 freshwater species, 90 per cent of which are unique to Australia: over 20 percent of these native fish species are considered vulnerable, endangered or rare (page 92).
  • The volume of wood removed from Australian forests continues to increase annually - 23.8 million cubic metres were removed in 1999-00 compared with 5.8 million cubic metres in 1945-46. In 1996-97, however, the volume of softwood harvested was greater than hardwood, as more plantation timber became available for harvest (page 42).
  • The area of new plantations established has been increasing annually, particularly hardwood. In 1995, 19,122ha of hardwood were established. This figure has increased each year, reaching 84,632ha in 1999 (page 48).

Further details can be found in Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends (cat. no. 4613.0) available from ABS bookshops. If you wish to purchase a copy of this publication contact the ABS bookshop in your capital city.