The situation and outlook for the land environment are mixed. Although we have made progress in many aspects of managing Australia's land environment, the trends for many indicators of land environmental values remain adverse, and are likely to be exacerbated by climate change.
Although vegetation and soils are in relatively good condition across large areas of Australia, this is not the case in much of the intensive land-use zone where agricultural production is concentrated, nor in some parts of the rangelands. The rate of land clearing, one of the most significant pressures on the land environment, averaged around 1 million hectares per year in 2000-10. By the end of the decade, the continental extent of land clearing was balanced by the extent of regrowth—although the character and values of two forms of vegetation are often different. The impacts of other landscape-scale pressures—principally invasive species, and inappropriate fire and grazing regimes—are increasing in many areas. In agricultural systems, the loss of soil carbon, and soil acidification and erosion, are problematic and may have major impacts on production.
Livestock grazing is the most extensive of Australia's land uses, practised across 55% of the continent. The conservation and Indigenous estates have continued to expand; each now represents more than 20% of Australia's land area. The effectiveness of management has improved for most land uses, particularly for those that are most intensive, but needs to improve further in many land-use systems to protect and sustain their environmental values. The expansion of human settlements, and of new forms of mining, are having locally significant impacts in those regions where they are concentrated.
Some governance and institutional arrangements for the land environment have changed substantially during the reporting period, but remain suboptimal in a number of important respects. Levels of investment in management of the land environment, in research and development, and in knowledge and information systems that enable good land management are significant but still inadequate.
Climate change is expected to have profound effects on the land environment, particularly on native vegetation and production systems. Some native vegetation communities are likely to disappear, others will change substantially in extent and composition, and novel ecosystems will arise. Impacts on production systems are likely to be mixed, but generally adverse.