Independent review of 2018 SOE report
The statutory State of the Environment Report (SOER), produced every 5 years under the Environment Protection Act 1993 (EP Act), is an important contribution to public discourse about the South Australian environment. The 2018 SOER was the 7th published since 1988.
The 2018 SOER is published as a web document, with 5 key themes: climate change, waste management, inland waters, coast and marine, and air quality. It is based on data captured in environmental trend and condition report cards. It includes reports by independent authors on the following specific issues: aquatic ecosystems, biodiversity, and coastal protection. The 2018 SOER identified 6 recommendations.
The South Australian government supported each of the recommendations, and acknowledged the significance of the programs of work required.
Following the release of the 2018 SOER, the EPA commissioned an independent review of the report. The purpose of having such a review was, by speaking with keystakeholders, to assess the report and provide recommendations to improve the quality of subsequent SOERs.
The scope of the review was to evaluate how well the SOER was managed, the success of the final report, a comparison with reports from other jurisdictions, and recommendations for future reports.
The review was undertaken by Dr Robert Gale, Director of Next Level Sustainability, a consultancy specialising in sustainability reporting based on the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) standards. The review analysed stakeholder views gathered through surveys and interviews and makes 14 recommendations. The review was received on 23 December 2019.
Recommendations of the independent review
|1 Review the provisions in section 112 of the EP Act through a public consultation process to determine if the provisions continue to be fit-for-purpose in achieving relevance, impact, efficiency and participation in determining the state of the environment in South Australia and the policy and decision making which should flow from the uptake of the information reported.||The EPA considers that the current scope and purpose SOE reporting is adequately supported by the Act, and that the SOER is a means to provide policy makers with insight to inform decision making. The EPA will consider opportunities to further strengthen review of government environmental programs and activities for the 2023 SOER, through the development of a framework for independent reviews.|
|2 Develop an enhanced stakeholder engagement process to include a broader range of stakeholders (including from Aboriginal, health, local government and business sectors) and to clarify the role of stakeholder groups to inform the assessment of materially significant environmental issues based on scientific evidence, Aboriginal knowledge and stakeholder testimony.||We agree that continuous improvement on our stakeholder engagement is important and will seek to build this into our planning for the 2023 SOER, noting this is subject to additional resource requirements.|
|3 Consider where continuous reporting services of information for professional and general public use can be developed (not just to a 5-year cycle) and to inform policy responses that solve environmental condition and trend problems.||Continuous environmental reporting is progressively being incorporated into our work, and is part of our science communication objectives.|
|4 Over the next reporting cycle, trial an MOU (or other interdepartmental agreement) between the EPA and the Department of Environment and Water (DEW) to align reporting.||Good working relationships with DEW are important, and we will continue to hold our regular meetings at project manager and executive level to align reporting.
Engagement on reporting reforms under the Landscape SA Act could facilitate a more streamlined approach to reporting obligations.
|5 Develop a knowledge for purpose/adoption strategy to inform content disclosures and to provide greater assurance that reported data and information on the state of the environment leads to uptake in policy development and decision making.||The SOER is not a strategic planning document; rather it provides context and information on key trends for decision making. However, continued improvements in the quality and presentation of data can assist policy development and decision making.|
|6 Strengthen relevance, impact and stakeholder engagement by aligning SOE reporting with credible global reporting frameworks including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Standards for Sustainability Reporting and to reflect progress towards sustainability included in circular economy practices as well as linkages between environmental change and socioeconomic indicators.||As part of our work with the national SOER Forum, we are investigating with other jurisdictions how best to incorporate SDGs and other internationally recognised environmental reporting measures. This will form part of our planning process for the 2023 SOER.|
|7 Describe the SOE reporting processes for governance, stakeholder engagement, and materiality assessment, including the role of scientific evidence, Aboriginal knowledge and stakeholder testimony, in the identification of environmental issues and the most materially significant environmental issues to include in the SoER.||This recommendation seeks to improve up front description of the SOER process, purpose and objectives to inform stakeholder expectations. The EPA will seek to deliver this as part of continual improvement of the SOER.|
|8 Explain how information is to be disclosed (eg through an international standard-setting process, evidence-based targets, departmental or other assessments).||Responses to recommendations 6 and 7 address this point.|
|9 Promote knowledge for adoption
ie how knowledge shared in the SoER is suitable for adoption (uptake) by relevant authorities so that the planned benefits of a recommendation have a greater chance of being realised.
|Framing information to best address the purpose and audience is something that the EPA seeks to continually improve.
The proposal for broader engagement in recommendation 2 could facilitate increased awareness and adoption of SOER findings.
|10 In each published SOER, and on other media, discuss the impact of the recommendations from previous years.||The proposed framework for independent reviews of activities and programs as part of the 2023 SOER will provide opportunities for the review of significant programs and activities. In the 2018 SOER, the review of significant programs and activities was addressed in sections on ‘Policy and Management Response’ and ‘Further Opportunities’ under each reporting theme.|
|11 Provide continuous reporting services of SOER information for professional use and the general public, including through community and not-for-profit organisations, academic and professional associations, local government, and business leaders to inform actions addressing environmental condition and trends.||Response to recommendation 3 addresses this point.|
|12 Incorporate product development within a broader Knowledge for Purpose (KfP) and adoption/uptake strategy which promotes environmental science and Aboriginal knowledge.||Improving the accessibility and relevance of information is an area that the EPA is seeking to improve and forms a key part of planning for the 2023 SOER.|
|13 Publish a single comprehensive SOER PDF document – a consolidated record – backdated to include the 2018 Report, as a reference document to show what was said at the time, and for ‘insurance’ and ‘assurance’ that information can be readily obtained from a single record, as online records are changed. Acknowledge all contributing authors unless they choose not to be included.||A summary report or short SOER is likely to be published in hardcopy/PDF form, but the nature of the data and interactive reporting that sit behind the web-based report mean that it is likely that an archived digital-only report will continue. Trends in data presentation mean that PDF or hardcopy capture will become less meaningful into the future. We agree that contributing authors should be acknowledged (unless they choose not to be included).|
|14 Investigate the use of social media and report on whether and how social media might aid the communication of Knowledge for Purpose (KfP) SOER to different audiences including those not currently reached.||We agree that continuous improvement with respect to accessibility and reach of the report is important and will seek to build this into our planning for the 2023 SOER.|