Managing the environment increasingly requires an understanding of how different pressures interact, and how management frameworks interact across different jurisdictions and sectors. It also requires sufficient monitoring to fill gaps in knowledge, provide an early warning of disruptive events and enable management to adapt to changes in the environment.
The interdependence between the systems that meet our need for food, water, energy and materials, and balancing the need for domestic consumption and use against export earnings, are complex. Attempts to address challenges in one area can lead to unintended outcomes, with management actions designed to alleviate pressures in one area sometimes increasing pressures elsewhere.
Integrated and coordinated policies are required to deal with the complex and systemic nature of the issues facing our environment, yet current policies that aim to address these issues in Australia are largely independent of each other.
Australian policy and management efforts could be improved if they were implemented within a more integrated spatial and temporal perspective, bringing together ecosystem-based management and land-use planning. Unfortunately, uptake of integrated approaches to the management of natural resources has been slow, and, although such an approach may have been adopted at a policy level, practical implementation is limited (Garcia et al. 2003, Smith et al. 2007).
Approaches that better integrate effort between jurisdictions and sectors, and other issues relating to improving management effectiveness, are discussed further under ‘Outlook’.
Indigenous and community engagement and participation
An important element of effective environmental management is ensuring that there is strong community understanding, engagement, support and participation. Effective management of community engagement provides targeted and accessible information for informed choices, empowers behaviour change, allows diverse engagement opportunities, creates ownership and develops a culture of active engagement.
In 2011–12, a ‘community engagement with nature conservation’ survey was undertaken across Australia with the aim of measuring Australians’ engagement with the natural environment and participation in nature conservation activities (ABS 2013; see Box OVW1). Some key findings of the survey were as follows:
- An estimated 8.1 million Australian adults (47 per cent of the adult population) had participated in nature conservation activities at home or on the farm in the past 12 months.
- Advocacy for nature conservation can include actions such as donating money to a relevant cause or organisation, signing a petition, participating in rallies or contacting a member of parliament. In 2011–12, nearly one-quarter of Australian adults (23 per cent) engaged in one of these activities, 17 per cent of Australian adults donated money, and 11 per cent signed a petition related to nature conservation.
- In 2011–12, almost 2 in 5 Australian adults (39 per cent) indicated that they consider the negative environmental impact when purchasing particular products. Women (45 per cent) were more likely than men (33 per cent) to do this.
- An estimated 4.5 million Australian adults (26 per cent) could be encouraged to become more involved in nature conservation activities.
The community may also influence environmental management and impacts in other ways. For example, through a social licence to operate (SLO), a tacit contract is developed that ensures that the socio-political risk of challenges to a company is reduced if it behaves according to the values of its stakeholders (Prno & Slocombe 2012). Stakeholders who value the environment can therefore influence industry to operate in sustainable ways. The idea of an SLO originated in the mining sector and is becoming more prominent in other sectors. Local communities are often key contributors to SLO opinions and processes.
There has also been a shift towards government regulation of company–community interactions and incorporation of SLO ideas into environmental licensing systems. For example, many fisheries are now adopting third-party certification schemes through independent bodies such as the Marine Stewardship Council.
Indigenous Australians have a unique relationship with, and responsibility for, caring for Country, which includes a wide range of environmental, natural resource and cultural heritage management activities undertaken by individuals, groups and organisations across Australia.
In recent decades, stimulated in part by the return of significant areas of land to Indigenous ownership from the late 1970s onwards, Indigenous communities, groups and organisations have increasingly engaged in land and sea management. This has been through employment in government agencies, such as national parks and natural resource management organisations, or, increasingly, by establishing their own land and sea management agencies and ranger groups.
Since 2007, more than 100 Indigenous ranger groups have formed, employing more than 660 individuals. The Indigenous ranger initiatives have steadily developed capacity among rangers, especially through exchanges between traditional and scientific knowledge, and deliver environmental as well as employment, economic and cultural benefits.
The role of Indigenous Australians in land and sea management is formally recognised by the EPBC Act. The Act calls for a partnership approach to environmental protection and biodiversity conservation that recognises and promotes Indigenous peoples’ role in, and knowledge of, the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biodiversity. In addition, Indigenous knowledge of water resources and management has become increasingly recognised as a tool for better-informed decisions. NESP’s Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub has identified that increasing Indigenous capacity and participation in management of land and sea Country is core to improving environmental management outcomes. Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030 (National Biodiversity Strategy Review Task Group 2009) seeks to achieve a 25 per cent increase in employment and participation of Indigenous people in biodiversity conservation by 2015.
Indigenous land and sea management is supported by a range of programs, such as the Australian Government’s Working on Country program. These programs provide an important source of employment, primarily for rangers, and resources for many groups in remote and very remote parts of Australia to look after Country. Reported benefits include economic, market, cultural, socio-political, health, wellbeing and environmental outcomes (Ryan et al. 2012, DSEWPaC 2013, SVA Consulting 2014, PM&C 2015, van Bueren et al. 2015).
However, funding for Indigenous land management decreased from $106 million in 2011–12 to $81 million in 2015–16. Concerns among land managers remain about short-term funding and gaps between funding rounds, complex reporting processes, and lack of relevance of tasks to local communities.