The condition, trend and outlook for the Australian environment are subject to some major drivers of change. Understanding and quantifying these drivers is fundamental to understanding the past, present and future state of our environment.
The 2008 Victorian state of the environment report1 framed the consideration of these drivers particularly well, and this national State of the Environment report builds on their approach in developing our outlook on Australia’s environment. This approach recognises three major drivers on the environment.
Climate change is a direct driver of change. Population growth (with associated growth in the built environment) and economic growth (with associated increases in consumption of resources and generation of waste) are indirect drivers. As a direct driver, climate change has direct and ongoing effects on the environment, as higher temperatures and changing rainfall regimes in some areas can be expected to have profound and pervasive control over a host of natural processes that underpin the condition and trend of ecosystems. The effects of indirect drivers are mediated by other processes, including the policies, culture and technology that we bring to bear on our use of our environment. For example, population growth is likely to continue to drive the need for expanded suburban development. The size of this impact will depend on how sensitive the planning has been towards local environmental assets and values, and on the effectiveness of policies to improve the energy efficiency of housing and transport.
Economic growth will probably include increased demand for energy and other resources, as well as increased waste generation, with all the accompanying environmental implications for resource development, emissions and waste disposal. Alternatively, economic growth may be largely decoupled from increased consumption of resources and increased waste. Improvements in the efficiency of resource use have led to a weakening of the link between economic growth and energy use over recent decades (Figure 2.1).2