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1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2013  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 14/11/2013   
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Measures of Australia's Progress

Healthy natural environment

Australians aspire to a healthy natural environment

Image: Question mark - Data gap

A data gap currently exists for healthy natural environment

    Why is this theme important?

    Australians told us that they want their natural environment to become healthier rather than degraded over time. This includes improving the health of all the components of the environment. Until recently there has been a tendency to take clean water, clean air and natural attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef for granted. However, increasing population and economic pressures have caused many people to be increasingly concerned about the state of both the Australian and wider global environment.

    In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
    1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
    2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
    3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
    4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

    A range of possible indicators are being considered for assessing our healthy natural environment, but the concept is too broad to summarise in any one measure. In order to capture the spirit of this idea in a measure, further development will need to be undertaken. We will continue to explore options for a suitable indicator in the future.

    But that is not the whole story...

    Trying to measure progress towards a healthy natural environment overall is quite challenging because there are many diverse elements that make up our natural environment. Look through the other tabs on this page to see where we have been able to track progress.

    Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.
A data gap currently exists for biodiversity.

In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

A range of possible indicators are being considered for biodiversity, such as looking at the official numbers of extinct or endangered flora and fauna species. Unfortunately change in these numbers is often due to improved efforts to collect information, rather than actual biodiversity change. Therefore, in order to capture the spirit of biodiversity in a measure, further development will need to be undertaken. We will continue to explore options for a suitable indicator in the future.

But that is not the whole story...

Although it is hard to track overall changes in biodiversity, we can track efforts to protect Australia's natural environment and conservation of biodiversity. Check out the protecting the environment theme for more information.

There is more to a healthy natural environment than biodiversity. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of a healthy natural environment have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.
A data gap currently exists for land and vegetation.

In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

We propose to use the total area of vegetation cover (excluding crops and pastures) from GeoScience Australia's National Dynamic Land Cover Dataset as a progress indicator for the land and vegetation element in the future. However this dataset was not ready for use at the time of MAP 2013's release.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to a healthy natural environment than land and vegetation. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of a healthy natural environment have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.
A data gap currently exists for the health of our rivers, lakes and ground water.

In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

A range of possible indicators are being considered for health of our rivers, lakes and ground water, such as water quality or the state of key species populations. In order to capture the spirit of this idea in a measure, further development will need to be undertaken. We will continue to explore options for a suitable indicator in the future.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to a healthy natural environment than rivers, lakes and ground water. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of a healthy natural environment have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.
A data gap currently exists for oceans and estuaries.

In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

A range of possible indicators are being considered for health of our oceans and estuaries, such as the impact of particular physical and chemical processes. In order to capture the spirit of this idea in a measure, further development will need to be undertaken. We will continue to explore options for a suitable indicator in the future.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to a healthy natural environment than oceans and estuaries. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of a healthy natural environment have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.
Graph Image for Average air quality index(a) of capital cities

Footnote(s): (a) An average air quality index (AQI) of 100 or greater means that on average air quality standards have been exceeded. An AQI of 33 or less is considered very good. (b)This indicator takes the average AQI for all measured pollutants within each city, based on median concentrations, and brings them together as an overall average that is weighted by the cities' relative populations.

Source(s): National Sustainability Council, 'Sustainable Australia Report 2013, Conversations with the future', Canberra, DSEWPaC, 2013.; ABS Population by Age and Sex, Regions of Australia, 2012 (cat. no. 3235.0)

The health of the air and atmosphere in Australia has not changed greatly since 2004.


Indicator: Average air quality index for capital cities

Why is this element important?

Poor air quality has a range of negative impacts: it can cause health problems, damage infrastructure, reduce crop yields and harm flora and fauna. Air pollution occurs both naturally and as a result of human activities.

Go to the overall progress tab and the further info page for more information about healthy natural environments.

How have we decided that things haven't changed greatly?

We have decided that there has been little change in the health of Australia's air since 2004 because the average air quality index for capital cities (our progress indicator for air and atmosphere) hasn't moved much.

If the average air quality index had declined considerably over the period, this would be considered progress.

Between 2004 and 2010, the average air quality index for capital cities, showed no significant movement. The index was 24 in 2004 and 23 in 2010 These low values meant that on average air quality was very good and air pollution posed little or no risk. (Endnote 1)

Why use this progress indicator?

Good air quality is an important part of the aspiration for a healthy natural environment.

While, an ultimate measure of air quality would simultaneously be able to consider the quality of Australia's air across the entire continent and for all relevant pollutants, an average air quality index for capital cities is considered a good measure of progress for a healthy air and atmosphere because it summarises the average level of several pollutants across capital city 'airsheds' relative to their recommended levels.

However this indicator has limitations. For example, the indicator uses air quality data from only selected monitoring stations across Australia (though these stations are at the capital cities, where population health may be at a greater risk from poor air quality). A further limitation is that the indicator is an average. Using averages, across many regions, tends to mask trends in the data that might illuminate important stories in more specific areas, or for particular pollutants.

Quality assessment (see key)

Image: Icon for 'Partial measure' This indicator is a partial measure of the health of Australia's air and atmosphere.

Image: Icon for 'Acceptable quality' The data source is of acceptable quality.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to healthy natural environments than the quality of the air. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of healthy natural environment have progressed.

While this page has focussed on ambient air quality, information on the health of our atmosphere can be found in the 'Climate change' section of Measures of Australia's Progress 2013's 'Sustaining the environment' page.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.

ENDNOTES

1. An air quality index (AQI) can be calculated by dividing pollutant concentrations by standards for maximum allowable concentrations set in the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (the ‘NEPM’; available at http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2004H03935) and multiplying by 100. An index score of 66 or less is considered good, 33 or less is considered very good, while a score greater than 100 is considered poor.

The figures used in Measures of Australia's Progress are averaged AQIs of median concentrations for all measured pollutants (carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particle matter) across all relevant measuring stations. Measures of Australia's Progress provides an average air quality index for capital cities, weighted by population. This means that each city's AQI contributes to the overall average proportionally to its population. For example in 2010, Sydney's population represented almost one third of the overall capital city population, and therefore its AQI contributed to almost one third of the overall indicator.

A data gap currently exists for forests.

In MAP there are several types of data gaps where:
1. the concept is not yet developed enough to measure;
2. the concept is important for progress but may not lend itself to meaningful measurement;
3. there is no data of sufficient quality to inform on progress; or
4. there is only one data point, so a progress assessment cannot be made.

We propose to use the total area of forest cover from GeoScience Australia's National Dynamic Land Cover Dataset as a progress indicator for the forests element in the future. However this dataset was not ready for use at the time of MAP 2013's release.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to a healthy natural environment than forests. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of a healthy natural environment have progressed.

Check out our further info page for useful links, a glossary and references relating to this chapter.

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