Globally, the human-caused drivers of change to the environment are demographic, economic, socio-political, scientific, technological, cultural and religious. In Australia, the key drivers of environmental change are population and economic activity.
The extent to which these drivers lead to environmental impacts depends on a range of factors, including:
- how many of us there are
- where and how we live
- the goods and services we produce (for both domestic and export markets) and consume
- the technologies we use to produce our energy, food, materials and transport
- how we manage the waste we produce.
Keeping impacts within limits is one key to a sustainable future.
If not managed well, drivers can generate pressures that have immediate and long-term negative consequences for the environment. If managed well, however, drivers can offer benefits for the environment, particularly through technological and institutional innovation, and changes in human behaviour that mitigate or reverse environmental impacts.
During the past 5 years, environmental policies and management practices in Australia have improved the state of parts of the Australian environment. The state of the environment (SoE) thematic reports indicate that Australia’s built environment, natural and cultural heritage, and Antarctic and marine environments are generally in good condition.
There are, however, areas where the condition of the environment is poor and/or deteriorating. These include the more populated coastal areas and some of the growth areas within urban environments where human pressure is greatest—particularly in Australia’s south-east.
If we are to prevent and remediate environmental degradation, policy and management actions need to focus on the drivers rather than only on the pressures, as has been the tendency of past approaches. We need improved knowledge, integration and cooperation to address the challenges of an increased population and growing economy. Positive signs are emerging of attempts to pursue integrated policy approaches in Australia. Coherent, multisectoral policy packages and other systemic approaches, including cooperation with other nations on such issues as climate change, are at the heart of sustainability.