Drivers are the underlying natural and human-caused forces that generate the pressures on the environment.
Natural drivers of environmental change include changes in Earth’s orbit, and variation in the amount of solar energy and volcanic eruptions. The human-caused drivers of change to the environment are demographic, economic, socio-political, scientific, technological, cultural and religious (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).
This report presents information on the underlying human-driven forces that are generating the pressures on Australia’s environment, including trends and changes since 2011. The major drivers of environmental change covered in this report—and that are increasingly likely to shape Australia’s environmental challenges in the coming decades—are population (including population growth and demographic change) and economic activity. These drivers generate a range of pressures that have a direct impact on the environment, including land-use change, habitat fragmentation, overharvesting of species, changes in surface-water and groundwater condition, introduction of invasive species, and climate change.
During the past 5 years, environmental policies and management practices in Australia have improved the state of parts of the Australian environment. However, in some cases, the pressures created by population and economic activity, including to meet export demand, continue to increase. Avoiding harmful impacts on the environment may require policy and management action to focus on both the drivers and the pressures of environmental change.
This report examines the future direction and magnitude of population change and economic activity. As noted in the state of the environment (SoE) 2011 report, there is significant uncertainty in these predictions. This is partly because of uncertainties in the underlying science and projections, and partly because of the options available to Australians to minimise the negative environmental impacts of a growing nation and a high standard of living. In the latter, there is significant room for hope.