Outlook under an 'improved future' scenario


An ‘improved future’ scenario for Australia’s environment would see innovation in policy, technical and associated management approaches to:

  • halt and reverse the decline in the environment, and the ecological processes that maintain biodiversity and provide ecosystem services
  • protect ecosystems and heritage values and, where necessary, repair environmental damage and restore ecological processes
  • decrease the production of waste and emissions
  • reduce overall dependence on nonrenewable resources.

The improved future scenario would be characterised by several factors.

At the policy level

  • An overaraching national policy that establishes a clear vision for the protection and sustainable management of Australia’s environment to the year 2050, and is supported by:
    • specific action programs and policy to preserve and, where necessary, restore natural capital and our unique environments, taking into account the need to adapt to climate change
    • complementary policy and strengthened legislative frameworks at the national, state and territory levels
    • efficient, collaborative and complementary planning and decision-making processes across all levels of government, with clear lines of accountability.
  • Integrated management that takes all aspects of the environment into account (e.g. ensuring that impacts of land management practices are considered for water and marine realms).

  • Effective strategies and mechanisms to address drivers and pressures, with stronger recognition of cumulative impacts.

  • Forward-looking policies and associated management actions that proactively manage emerging risks, consistent with the precautionary principle, drawing on scenarios and futures thinking, integrated assessments and diverse knowledge perspectives (e.g. processes that allow rapid responses to incursions of invasive species and threats to threatened species).

  • Strong collaboration and partnerships with business and nongovernment organisations to protect Australia’s natural capital, and promote healthy and resilient environments.

  • Greater international and regional cooperation on environmental issues of shared concern.

At the information, data and research level

  • National economic accounts that incorporate natural capital valuation, and consider how different policy and management approaches would change the value of natural capital.
  • Use of ecological risk assessment methods, including a better understanding of cumulative impacts and ecological thresholds to identify, qualify and rank risks.
  • An improved understanding of what determines resilience and how resilience can be protected or improved, along with adaptive capacity and the potential for transformational change.
  • Long-term monitoring using standardised approaches, and prioritisation of what, when and how components of different ecosystems are monitored.
  • Better coordination and sharing of monitoring data, cultural understanding, scientific best practice and management experience.
  • Increased use of Indigenous capacity and knowledge, and citizen science to add to our knowledge base.

At the resourcing level

  • Appropriate political support and institutional capacity.
  • Coordination and collaboration between government, researchers, industry and the community.
  • Systemic involvement of Indigenous Australians and the community in environmental management.
  • New models of public, private and blended financing.
  • A sophisticated impact investment market that has attracted new sources of private capital.
  • Better and greater use of technology to drive change, and inform and implement decisions.
  • Support for expansion of the knowledge base and decision-support tools.

To address pressures

  • Clear climate change mitigation and adaptation plans to protect natural capital, economic infrastructure and heritage values.
  • Effective plans, decision-making processes and collaborative action to address invasive species and diseases.
  • Reduced pollution from domestic and industry sources, especially greenhouse gases, litter in the marine environment and air pollutants in urban areas.
  • Declining demand for water for urban use as a result of changed consumer behaviour, greater efficiency of water use, and improved water storage and recycling facilities.
  • A comprehensive, adequate, representative, connected, well-resourced and well-managed conservation estate for both terrestrial and marine areas, which includes a mix of public, customary and privately conserved land, and is effectively monitored to guide future management and policy in an adaptive framework.

For the atmosphere: reduced greenhouse gas emissions that are on track to achieve net zero national emissions, including through production of energy from renewable sources, and ongoing improvements in energy production efficiency and consumption.

For the built environment: an increased proportion of high-quality, medium to high-density development in established urban areas, with access to green space and transport infrastructure.

For heritage: comprehensive identification of Australia’s natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places, and effective, integrated mechanisms to protect and manage heritage places in decision-making processes at all levels of government.

For biodiversity: a series of healthy, interconnected ecosystems across the country, protected from declines in condition, and policies to rebuild condition and resilience in targeted areas.

For land: consistent use of land-management practices that maintain, rebuild and restore ecological functioning and resilience.

For inland water: water resource access and management plans across all major inland water and groundwater basins that prioritise the sustainable allocation of water, and protect water quality and riparian ecosystems.

For coasts: effective adaptation strategies to address sea level rise.

For the marine environment: effective coordination of marine management across pressures, sectors and jurisdictions.

For the Antarctic environment: adequate resources to monitor and manage the impact of human activities in Antarctica.


Overview national leadership
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: Outlook under an 'improved future' scenario. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/overview/topic/outlook-under-improved-future-scenario, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65510c633b