Many individuals, groups and organisations make important contributions to protecting and managing our natural environment. This report focuses on the environmental policies, programs and projects of public agencies in particular, which are discussed in more detail under the section ‘What we are doing about it?’ in each of the theme chapters.

As noted above, some significant drivers of environmental change operate at a global or continental scale and require national and international coordination and cooperation to address. There are more than 250 agreements to support Australia’s participation in international cooperation on the environment.

Within Australia there are a number of mechanisms for national coordination and cooperation such as the 1992 Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment, and more recent initiatives such as the National Centre for Cooperation on Environment and Development, the National Plan for Environmental Information, the National Waste Policy and the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

There are also measures being taken at state, regional and local levels to protect, restore and enhance the environment. These include examples of all five forms of activity (statutory instruments, education and information, land-use planning system, economic instruments, and advice to government and others) recently identified as important for environmental management (Gemmell and Scott 2013). Some of the most significant policy initiatives during the reporting period include the development and establishment of:

  • 2009
    • marine parks
  • 2010
    • Water for Good Plan
    • The 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide
    • Goyder Institute for Water Research
    • National Waste Policy
    • Environment Protection (Waste to Resources) Policy
  • 2011
    • Renewable Energy Plan for South Australia
    • Adelaide Coastal Water Quality Improvement Plan
    • Carbon Farming Initiative
  • 2012
    • Climate Change Adaptation Framework for South Australia
    • State Natural Resources Management Plan
    • Water Industry Act.

Outlook for the environment

The outlook for the South Australian environment is mixed, and is strongly linked to global climate change, ongoing and future patterns of economic activity, and the effectiveness of the range of measures taken by governments, business, industry, the community and individuals to protect and improve the natural environment. Some changes such as climate change and the strain on freshwater supplies are essentially unavoidable, as is the likelihood of further irreversible loss of biodiversity. This highlights the need to improve adaptation and resilience, and to decouple economic activity from environmental impacts.

There are both negative and positive challenges and changes that need to be taken into account in managing the South Australian environment into the future, including:

  • increase in population
  • continued economic growth, including increase in mining
  • changes in land use
  • long-term shift from primary and secondary industries towards service industries
  • long-term depletion of reserves of fossil fuels and minerals
  • new technology and products, including nanotechnology and new chemicals
  • transition to new sources of energy, including unconventional gas extraction, non-domestic solar, geothermal and wind
  • climate change impacts.
Painted Dragon

Painted Dragon

Angus Kennedy

Outlook for environmental reporting

The most significant challenge for reporting on the state of the environment remains inadequate access to relevant, up-to-date information. A number of recent initiatives promise to improve this, including:

  • the NRM state and condition reporting framework developed under the State Natural Resources Management Plan
  • a system of environmental–economic accounts and regional environmental accounting model trials by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists
  • the National Plan for Environmental Information
  • national sustainability indicators
  • the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study
  • United Nations Environment Programme Working Group on decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth
  • ecosystem services analysis and the analytical backdrop such as the Seventh European Union Environment Action Programme to 2020, resulting in global progress in policy and data deployment
  • the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, expected in 2014.

More effective monitoring and evaluation of the state and condition of South Australia’s natural resources are still needed, including the collection of data that allow meaningful analysis of trends in environmental quality over time and the targeting of suitable and resourced interventions. Ideally, this data collection should be consistent, aligned nationally and internationally, and make better use of the multitude of data from individuals, community groups, research organisations and published research. Clearly, over the next five years we can expect crowd-sourcing, citizen science and other trends in open data and public engagement to become even more prominent and significant, as will the need for more and better visualisation of information.

As part of its own commitment to continued improvement of the value and effectiveness of state of the environment reporting, the Board of the Environment Protection Authority have adopted a plan that includes:

  • a new reporting model based on a combination of thematic and regional assessments, including significant global trends
  • a set of long-term reporting indicators that reflect best practice, adopt environmental accounting standards and concepts, and optimise alignment with other environmental reporting, to be developed in consultation with key stakeholders
  • implementation of a system and ongoing program for collecting and maintaining the data required for reporting on the indicators selected, including mechanisms and processes for community participation
  • formal agreements with government agencies that have roles related to the reporting topics, for the collection and provision of specified data at specified intervals to support reporting against the selected indicators
  • priority research into key issues to inform state of the environment reporting
  • more effective communication of environmental information.

Over the next reporting period, there will ideally be a full integration of the multiple environmental reporting processes, preferably within a whole-of-government environmental information strategy and plan. Additionally, effective sharing and presentation of data needs to be developed to implement web-based, accessible—and more useful and used—state of the environment reporting.


The 2013 South Australia state of the environment report shows that some progress has been made since the 2008 report to better protect the state’s natural environment. However, the natural resources of the state are declining and environmental quality is variable. This supports the findings reflected in other research and reports.

There are significant challenges in maintaining and protecting our environment. Resolving these will rely on more responsible economic development, more effective implementation of existing environmental measures, and new and innovative solutions to some of the more intractable problems, such as those related to decoupling economic growth from environmental impacts.

The South Australian environment is in a moderate and finely balanced state, and there is much work to do to be able to report even a steady condition in five years’ time. An important aspect of this work is to improve environmental information and knowledge. Good-quality, relevant, up-to-date and accessible information is key to understanding the drivers of environmental change and to informing the coordinated response needed to manage the many and diverse impacts on our environmental resources. To deliver the required information as efficiently and effectively as possible, the Environment Protection Authority recommends the development of an environmental information strategy and plan for South Australia. This would identify key environmental information needs; prioritise, coordinate and integrate the collection of environmental data; and improve access and communication of available environmental information.


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