Approach to State of the Environment reporting

The approach and processes for preparing the 2013 state of the environment report for South Australia had a number of key features.

Content development

Authors were nominated by key government agencies that are the main custodians of data required for the report. These authors drafted content with the support of their own and other agencies based on guidelines prepared by the EPA, and under the guidance of a senior-level government reference group. Final editorialising of content was undertaken by the Chief Executive under delegation from the EPA Board.

Inter-agency coordination

A five-member senior-level government committee supported the project with advice and direction, and promoted consistency and links across themes. The committee reviewed draft chapters, identified potential peer reviewers, contributed to the terms of reference for peer review and facilitated approval of draft content for the theme chapters by their heads of department.

Peer review

Each chapter was reviewed by two external peer reviewers with expertise in the particular areas. This resulted in a number of revisions and generated valuable additional information that was incorporated into the final version of the report. The peer review process confirmed the importance of considering information and perspectives from a broad range of sources to ensure a balanced and complete picture.

Edit and design

Biotext, a company with expertise in drafting, editing and publishing science-based publications, professionally edited, proofread and designed the final report. We hope that the editing and design of the report demonstrates the value of presenting scientific information in an easy-to-understand and accessible language and format. This includes the addition of assessment summaries at the start of each chapter, which are based on judgments of the overall trend and condition of selected aspects covered in the report. The topics in the assessment summaries are composed of a number of related elements, some with a positive trend and others with a negative trend, reflecting the complexity of the many environmental interactions.


The content of the report has been organised under five broad themes reflecting the key environmental issues for South Australia. All themes follow the same structure, reporting on the driving forces, pressures, state, impact, response and outlook (DPSIRO) model (Figure 6) to meet the requirements of the South Australian Environment Protection Act 1993.

For efficiency, consistency and alignment, the EPA used existing information reported under key environmental policies, strategies and plans, wherever available.

A diagram shows the relationship between the different elements of the state of the environment reporting framework: driving forces and pressures, state, impacts and response.
Driving forces include population growth and trends (size, distribution and consumption), economic and technological growth and trends (resource use) and climate change (global and local). These influence the state of the environment and are influenced by the response. 
The environmental state includes land (soil and vegetation health and land management), water (river health, water for human use, rainfall), air (quality) and biodiversity (land and marine species). These factors influence the impacts, and are influenced by the response.
Impacts include use of resources (land, water and energy), pollution and waste (contamination of air, land and water) and loss of biodiversity (habitat and species loss, increase in pest plants and animals). Impacts are influenced by the response.
The response includes policies and regulation (for example, Water for Good Plan, No Species Loss Strategy), programs and projects (for example, Protected Areas Conservation Program) and monitoring and evaluation (for example, the state of the environment report). Responses influence driving forces and pressures, state, and impacts. 
The outlook will depend on the interaction of driving forces and impacts, the success of responses, the extent and impact of climate change, as well as emerging issues, both positive and negative.

Figure 6 State of the environment reporting framework—driving forces, pressures, state, impact, response, outlook (DPSIRO)

Improving reporting effectiveness

Consecutive reports on the environment in South Australia and for the whole of Australia have highlighted areas for improvement. For environmental reporting to inform and help shape environmental management and sustainable behaviour more effectively, there is a need for better coordination and integration of the substantial amount of environmental data collected by governments at federal, state, regional and local levels, and by the private sector, universities, researchers and nongovernment organisations. Such changes would not just improve environmental reporting, but would also make meaningful information available on long-term trends in priority areas and assess the effectiveness of the significant investment in conservation and natural resource management. There are increasing opportunities to benefit from developments in crowdsourcing (the practice of obtaining services, ideas or content from a large group of people, and especially from an online community), citizen science and other forms of open data generation and sharing.

There is also a need for improvements in the synthesis and communication of available data to a broad audience on a more regular basis, and for better integration of environmental data with relevant socio-economic data. This requires agreement on clear indicators, including for sustainability and wellbeing, and commitment to the maintenance of core datasets required to measure progress against those indicators. It also requires improvement in communicating complex scientific information in a coherent and easy-to-understand manner.

The following points made in the 2011 Australia state of the environment report (State of the Environment 2011 Committee 2011) about the future of environmental reporting are equally applicable to South Australia:

  • Improved data collection and use of alternative data sources are vital for understanding and effectively managing important aspects of Australia’s environmental systems.
  • Of particular value would be partnerships with the resources sector, which collects rich datasets on coastal and marine environments (where publicly available data are particularly scarce) as part of its environmental approvals and compliance processes; and the agricultural sector, where industry consultants collect a wide variety of environmental datasets on soil, water and pests.
  • Collecting information is not enough. Creating and using systems that allow efficient access to environmental information remain a great challenge. Such systems would allow scientists and managers to analyse and make connections in the data, so that they can begin to understand the links among various aspects of ecological processes. It is also important that socio-economic data relevant to environmental issues are available, so that connections between the environment and society can be understood. Finally, the usefulness of environmental and related data will be magnified if they can be effectively transformed into information products and transferable knowledge likely to be meaningful to a broad audience and relevant to the issues and policy needs of today and tomorrow.
  • There is a need for
    • more intelligent and powerful (quicker, integrated, open) monitoring
    • increased standardisation of measurement and reporting systems
    • better data management and environmental modelling platforms
    • standardisation and sharing environmental data between jurisdictions and industry
    • tracking changes in environmental conditions through community-based environmental accounting, or through benchmarks and standards for environmental sustainability
    • innovation and commitment to increase the value derived from environmental monitoring and reporting against agreed benchmarks and standards.

Measuring sustainability

There has been a growing recognition of the need for new measures of wellbeing that better reflect environmental costs and benefits and their sustainable use. Economic valuation of ecosystem services and environmental assets is notoriously difficult and controversial in spite of its obvious and significant value.

Measurement of sustainability or sustainable development has been an issue of public interest since at least the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and has been raised in a number of significant reports in recent times (Stiglitz et al. 2009, UNEP 2011, The Royal Society 2012, WWF 2012).

Measuring sustainability is a challenging concept because it requires modelling an unknown future and integrating information about widely divergent aspects with complex interactions. Other challenges in measurement are cause-and-effect relationships spanning multiple geographic and time scales. This complexity is reflected in the multiple attempts to develop indices, as well as different versions, of sustainability indicators, including the Genuine Progress Indicator, Ecological Footprint, Human Development Index, Environmental Sustainability Index and, OECD Better Life Index (Stiglitz et al. 2009).

In response to the 2008 state of the environment report, the South Australian Government announced a project ‘to determine economy-wide measures of sustainability that may be applicable to the assessment of Government policy, enabling consistent measurement and providing a more inclusive assessment of sustainability’ (Government of South Australia 2009). In its 2011–12 Budget, the Australian Government provided $10.1 million for a program to develop a set of sustainability indicators to measure Australia’s progress towards sustainability. The Australian Government committed to indicators than can be factored in at a regional level, and with data regularly released at national, state and, where available, regional level (DSEWPaC 2012).

The development of South Australia–specific sustainability measures is likely to benefit from the outcomes of the national process; coordination with that process is likely to maximise advantages of consistent indicators and related efficiencies in data collection.

Internationally, to contribute to the integration of environmental science into economic and political decision-making, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established in April 2012. IPBES is an independent body similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is made up of 92 nations, including Australia. IPBES brings together the International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity and various follow-up processes to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, including a growing number of subglobal assessment initiatives (IPBES 2012).

Juvenile central netted dragon near Stuart Creek Station

Angus Kennedy


Since the start of South Australian state of the environment reporting more than 20 years ago, there have been significant changes in the amount, quality, nature and sources of environmental information, in how it is used, in the way the information is and can be communicated, and its potential value. There have also been significant advances in reporting methods and approaches, such as sustainability reporting and environmental accounting. At the same time, the requirements for good reporting are still as important today as they were 20 years ago, such as a robust set of indicators supported by good science, good data collection, proper trend analysis, and systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of responses to environmental challenges. The EPA is committed to continual improvement of state of the environment reporting, taking into account these essential requirements and the changing context in which reporting takes place.

In this spirit, the EPA has initiated a program to improve the effectiveness of future state of the environment reporting, both in terms of content and its communication. The program includes a new reporting model, improved quality of data (including consistent, robust, longitudinal datasets and use of citizen science), and more effective communication and engagement (including improved accessibility and visualisation). It also promotes the development of a whole-of-government environmental information strategy and plan, which coordinates comprehensive, trusted, timely and high-quality environmental information to assist decision-making by government, industry and the community. We expect that, collectively, these changes will deliver better and more regular information on the environment.

Better information on the state of the environment, ecosystems and biodiversity is essential for both private and public decision-making that determines the allocation of natural capital for economic development. (UNEP 2011)

Ultimately, the objective is not to report environmental information, but to use the information to help us prevent, reduce and repair environmental harm and risk through good policy and regulation, targeted programs and projects, and changing culture and behaviour.

Our challenge is to understand, explain and indeed act to ensure that environmental risk and environmental challenges are tackled in a sustainable manner. (Gemmell and Scott 2012)

This report

The following five chapters of the 2013 state of the environment report provide a detailed assessment of the South Australian environment. The first two chapters reflect key drivers of environmental change, namely population and climate change, and the subsequent three chapters cover three critical aspects of the environment: water, biodiversity, and the coastal and marine environment.

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