Effectiveness of management for specific pressures and drivers


Earlier, we noted that the complex and dynamic relationships between drivers, pressures, ecosystems and humans call for policies and management actions that address both drivers and pressures. In many cases, the most important leverage points for policy and management may be the drivers rather than the pressures (UNEP 2012).

With ongoing research and analysis, we are starting to better understand the relationships between drivers, pressures and related impacts on the environment. Better information does not, however, necessarily lead to improved management of the environment. One reason for this is that designing policy, governance and management arrangements to address drivers and pressures of environmental change is challenging, because:

  • relationships between drivers, pressures and environmental impacts are complex
  • not all drivers are subject to Australian policy, culture or technology, and some drivers operate at an international scale.

Nevertheless, during the past few decades, a deepening understanding of environmental challenges and risks has led to the continuing evolution of environment policy and management approaches in Australia.

The earliest policies and programs of all governments in Australia, including the Australian Government, tended to focus on specific issues and solutions (e.g. sandmining on Fraser Island, recovery of individual threatened species). Since the 1990s:

  • environmental issues have been incorporated within a range of sectoral policies at all 3 levels of government (e.g. policies around water management, mining, oil and gas, agriculture)
  • national standards have been developed for specific topics (e.g. air quality)
  • regional and community-based action has greatly expanded (e.g. landcare, volunteer community groups, regional forests agreements, regional natural resource management).

Today, there is a good, albeit sometimes incomplete, appreciation by government, industry, scientists and the community of the links between environmental, economic and social wellbeing. These links make it more complex both to define problems and to respond to them (EEA 2015). However, recognition of these links also makes it possible for policies and management to be more effective.

SoE 2016 highlights successes and challenges with the management of specific pressures and drivers.

Effectiveness of managing climate change

Because climate change is already compounding the effect of other pressures on the environment, it is important that we get management of our climate change response right, including management of the causes of climate change.

Integrated approaches to environmental challenges are not only an issue for national and subnational levels—the effectiveness of dealing with global warming depends on international cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

The international political response to climate change began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. In December 2015, the 21st meeting of the Convention of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the Paris Agreement. This agreement recognises that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet, and requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries. It also recognises that deep reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions will be required to achieve the ultimate objective of the convention.

The Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by holding the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels (UNFCCC 2015).

As its contribution to the international effort, the Australian Government has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 26–28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030—a target that the Australian Government believes is in step with the efforts of other comparable nations. In comparison, the Climate Change Authority has recommended that cuts to greenhouse gas emissions of 40–60 per cent below 2000 levels are required by 2030 to meet an emissions budget of 10.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases for 2013–50 (CCA 2015).

The Emissions Reduction Fund is the centrepiece of the current Australian Government’s policies to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. It uses a competitive reverse auction to purchase carbon credits at lowest cost. The policy also includes a safeguard mechanism to ensure that emissions reductions purchased by the government are not offset by significant increases in emissions above business-as-usual levels elsewhere in the economy. It does this by placing a limit on Australia’s largest emitters.

The effectiveness of these policies has been questioned—for example, increased emissions from the electricity sector have been reported since the introduction of the Emissions Reduction Fund in 2014, despite a flattening in demand for electricity in June 2015 (DoE 2015c).

Other Australian Government commitments around climate change include support for developing countries, particularly those in the Pacific region, to build climate change resilience and reduce emissions through the Australian aid program. Australia is also committed, and has provided leadership, to the Montreal Protocol on the control of ozone-depleting substances. This protocol has resulted in the mitigation of aspects of global warming, because ozone-depleting substances are invariably also greenhouse gases (see UNEP 2016c).

Australian governments have been implementing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for more than 2 decades. Measures include labelling and minimum performance standards for electrical appliances, changes to building codes to drive energy efficiency, and restrictions on land clearing. A range of market-based schemes has been implemented to promote emissions reductions, including national schemes. Some states and territories are also leading mitigation action, with Victoria and South Australia having emissions reduction targets of net zero by 2050.

State and local governments also promote climate change adaptation actions through planning laws and investments in public infrastructure. State and local governments ensure that regulatory and market frameworks are in place to ensure accurate and regionally appropriate information and delivery of adaptation responses within their jurisdiction. This includes delivery of essential services such as emergency services, environmental protection, and planning and transport. Local governments are at the forefront in responding to the direct impacts of climate change, although they are all responding in different ways and coordination across jurisdictions is lacking.

However, governance of climate change in Australia remains complex. Since 2011, coordination of national, state and territory programs has not improved, although coordination between state and local governments has.

There will continue to be the opportunity to benefit from new technologies to improve emissions abatement, and for governments, industry and communities to collaborate to identify and implement stronger adaptation measures. However, whether they are adopted will depend as much on the incentive systems in place as on the technology.

Overview climate change

Effectiveness of managing land clearing, and habitat degradation and fragmentation

Every state and territory has laws to restrict the clearing of native vegetation and conserve biodiversity, particularly by restricting actions that affect protected animals or plants as part of Australia’s 2012 National Framework for Native Vegetation. The overarching goal of the framework is to ‘increase the national extent and connectivity of native vegetation’. These laws have had a dramatic impact in slowing habitat loss and ecosystem threats (Taylor et al. 2014).

Although 1999–2010 was marked by increasingly tight restrictions on clearing in Australia, since then, policy responses have weakened legislation that protects native vegetation from clearing (Taylor 2015, Evans 2016). The most dramatic impact of changing legislation has been seen in Queensland, where clearing rates have sharply increased. New South Wales and Western Australia have also implemented changes reducing restrictions on clearing under some conditions. Weakening legislation relating to clearing of native vegetation has adverse implications for vegetation extent, condition and connectivity, and for biodiversity.

A recent policy development has been the use of offsetting arrangements, as either complementary policies or conditions of clearing approvals. Offsetting policies have been put in place within most jurisdictions in the past 5 years, and, in 2012, the Australian Government introduced an environmental offsets policy under the EPBC Act. To date, there has been no national assessment of the EPBC Act offsets policy, although a review of offsets proposed for projects approved in the Great Barrier Reef raised some concerns about their targeting and value (Yeates 2013).

Offsetting involves compensating for the adverse impacts of an action on the environment by generating an equivalent benefit elsewhere. The overarching objective of environmental offsets is to deliver no net loss or net gain of a particular component of the environment. The use of offsetting has been criticised because the baselines used to measure the intended net outcome assume a future of biodiversity decline. Research has shown that offsets policies across Australia assume up to 4.2 per cent loss of vegetation extent and/or condition per year, which is, on average, more than 5 times higher than recent rates of vegetation loss. A recent publication noted that the near-ubiquitous use of declining crediting baselines risks ‘locking in’ biodiversity decline across impact and offset sites, with negative implications for biodiversity conservation (Maron et al. 2015).

Effectiveness of managing invasive species

The challenge of dealing with invasive species has been highlighted by successive SoE reports. Examples of effective eradication, containment or control of invasive species (e.g. on Macquarie Island) indicate that this pressure on the environment can be reduced given sufficient effort, resources and coordination.

Since 2012, progress has been made in several priority areas, including a national framework to provide integrated and collaborative approaches to biosecurity, and management of established pests and diseases. The Australian Weeds Strategy (Australian Weeds Committee 2007) and the Australian Pest Animal Strategy (Vertebrate Pests Committee 2007) also provide overarching frameworks to manage invasive species (both are being updated for 2017–27). Since 2011, the Australian Government has invested significantly in feral cat control initiatives, and the Threatened Species Strategy (DoE 2015b) identifies tackling feral cats as its top priority for action, with a range of projects and target areas for research and management.

However, invasive species remain a very significant threat and, in at least some cases, the distribution and abundance of invasive species have grown in recent years. Impediments to effective management of invasive species in both the land and marine environments include:

  • lack of adequate resourcing
  • lack of effective and efficient monitoring
  • absence of national data collation on incursions, pathways and risks
  • an inability to respond in a timely manner to deal with new threats or incursions before they become established.

The challenge of managing invasive freshwater fish, and understanding their extent and impact has resulted in the development of Feral Fish Scan, a national online information resource. This tool is taking a crowdsourcing approach to provide a community resource for mapping invasive fish that, over time, will provide further support for future management.

Overview information
Jackson WJ, Argent RM, Bax NJ, Bui E, Clark GF, Coleman S, Cresswell ID, Emmerson KM, Evans K, Hibberd MF, Johnston EL, Keywood MD, Klekociuk A, Mackay R, Metcalfe D, Murphy H, Rankin A, Smith DC, Wienecke B (2016). Overview: Effectiveness of management for specific pressures and drivers. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/overview/topic/effectiveness-management-specific-pressures-and-drivers, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65510c633b