Why report on the state of the environment 

Every 5 years, the Australian Government commissions an independent review of the state of the environment. The purpose of national state of the environment reporting is to:

  • provide all Australians with authoritative information on the state of the environment that sustains our economy and wellbeing
  • provide the Australian public, the Australian Government and other decision-makers responsible for managing our environment with an assessment of how effectively the Australian environment is being managed and what the key national environmental issues are.

To ensure that this information is as credible and robust as possible, the report is written by a panel of independent authors, based on the best available evidence, and quality checked through a rigorous consultation, peer-review and fact-checking process.

The ongoing provision of this key information is ensured by a requirement under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) for the Minister for the Environment and Energy to table a report in Parliament every 5 years on the state of the environment.

What's new in 2016

SoE 2016 builds on SoE 2011, which was widely praised for breaking new ground in the scope and depth of its reporting, and for setting a baseline for future comparisons over time (State of the Environment 2011 Committee 2011, Ward et al. 2014). SoE 2016 focuses on providing updates to the information in SoE 2011, including filling some gaps in information, and reporting on new and emerging issues.

It also introduces innovations that aim to improve the relevance and usefulness of SoE reporting for evidence-based policy and decision-making.

SoE 2016 continues the ‘report card’ assessments of pressures, condition and trends presented in SoE 2011 (see Assessment summaries). Additional information has been provided on the methodology and evidence used to make each 2016 assessment, and the comparability of the assessments between 2016 and 2011. This should strengthen the transparency and repeatability of the report-card assessments. 

The most important innovation in SoE 2016 is the new interactive digital platform – SoE Digital – which enables decision-makers, researchers and interested members of the public to explore and discover information of interest to them in a variety of ways. 

Reporting context

SoE 2016 is one of a range of environmental and sustainability reports that are produced at national, state and territory levels to fulfil both Australian and international reporting requirements.

National context

Every 5 years, the Australian Government commissions an independent, comprehensive national review of the state of the Australian environment to develop and table a national SoE report in Parliament, as mandated by the EPBC Act (s. 516B).

SoE 2016 draws from both national and jurisdictional reports, including 5-yearly intergenerational reports from the Australian Government Treasury (Australian Government Treasury 2015). Other national reporting protocols, such as those relating to air quality standards in the National Environment Protection Measures established under the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 (Cwlth), are also incorporated in the analyses presented in this report.

At a jurisdictional level, most states and territories produce a regular SoE report, and the thematic reports may draw on relevant findings from these. The jurisdictional reports have some limitations that lead to difficulties in their use to inform the national report, particularly because approaches to SoE reporting differ across jurisdictions (although an increasing number of jurisdictions are using the ‘report card’ approach of SoE 2011). A cross-jurisdictional SoE reporting forum has been established with members from all Australian SoE reporting agencies, to provide a mechanism to improve quality and linkages across SoE reports.

International context

Australia is an active participant in many multilateral forums and other international environmental organisations. Engaging with these forums can help Australia to benefit from international actions to manage global resources, the atmosphere, the high seas and Antarctica. Many multilateral environmental agreements also provide the constitutional basis for the Australian Government’s legislation, policy and programs.

Australia contributes to some of these international forums by providing periodic reports. These reports include assessments of how Australia meets its own environmental objectives and fulfils international commitments. Examples of Australia’s reporting to international forums are outlined below.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Environmental Performance Reviews Programme

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will conduct its third mandatory Environmental Performance Review of Australia from 2017 to 2019. As an OECD member, Australia is required to participate in this process every 10 years. Australia’s previous reviews were published in 1998 and 2008 (OECD 2008). The review will provide an independent and fact-based assessment of Australia, with targeted recommendations to encourage further reforms from a whole-of-nation perspective.

The review will contain a number of compulsory chapters, including key environmental trends, environmental governance and management, and green growth. It will also include 2 chapters on topics chosen by Australia and agreed by the OECD.

Reports to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity

As a Contracting Party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Australia is required to report periodically on measures it has taken to implement the Convention and the effectiveness of these measures. Australia’s national reports to the Convention on Biological Diversity align with the structure, priorities and targets of the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030. The next national report is expected to be submitted in 2018.

Reports to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Australia submits a number of national reports to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in line with international reporting requirements. As an Annex I signatory to the UNFCCC, Australia is required to submit a national communication every 4 years and a biennial report every 2 years. National communications are designed to provide a consistent, comparable, accurate and complete account of action being taken by parties to the UNFCCC to address climate change. Biennial reports show parties’ progress towards meeting their commitments under the Convention. Australia also prepares an annual national inventory report outlining our greenhouse gas emissions and removals each year.

Reports to the United Nations High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all 193 United Nations Member States in September 2015. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form a substantial part of the 2030 Agenda, and several goals concern environmental aspects of development. There is a 3-tiered 2030 Agenda reporting structure to which Australia will contribute:

  • A global sustainable development report will be produced every 4 years by a panel of independent experts to track technical and policy trends, gaps, challenges and successes.
  • An SDG progress report is produced annually by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs to provide a snapshot of global progress.
  • Member States are expected to produce 2 voluntary national reviews during the life of the 2030 Agenda. Voluntary national reviews are country-led reports on progress, successes, challenges and lessons learned in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Australian Government is considering the timing of its first voluntary national review.
Periodic reporting under the World Heritage Convention

Australia provides periodic reports to the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, consistent with the Operational guidelines to the World Heritage Convention (the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage 1972), to which Australia is a state party. Australia’s most recent periodic report (UNESCO WHC 2016) on Australian World Heritage properties was submitted in 2011.