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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

Protecting the environment

Australians aspire to look after and protect our natural environment

Image: Question mark - Data gap

A data gap currently exists for protecting and looking after the natural environment


    Why is this theme important?

    The MAP consultation process showed that many people were concerned with how people look after the natural environment. Australians aspired to protect, care for and avoid damage to the environment, for example through protecting native flora, fauna, and wilderness areas. This involved careful management and restorative measures to improve the state of the environment and support healthy environmental function. Throughout the consultation, there was strong support for the idea that caring for the natural environment can occur through individual or group initiatives and through business and government programs.

    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 protecting and looking after the natural environment, such as people's involvement in environmental conservation or other activities. 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...

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

Footnote(s): (a) External territories are excluded. (b) 2006 data is not available for Marine and/or Total.;(a) International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Categories V and VI offer a higher level of human use than the lower categories do. (b) 2006 data is not available for Marine. (c) The 2010 data includes a small amount of external territories which are otherwise excluded.

Source(s): Australian Government Department of the Environment, Collaborative Australian Protected Area Databases (1997, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010); Australian Government Department of the Environment, Collaborative Australian Protected Area Databases (1997, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010)

Direct protection of the natural environment in Australia has progressed over the last decade


Indicator: Total terrestrial and marine area protected

Why is this element important?

The overall theme of protecting and looking after the natural environment captures a very broad and complex set of actions, including such things as careful management and restorative measures aimed to protect, care for and avoid further damage to the environment. However, this element of direct protection of the natural environment is more focussed on the establishment and management of protected areas.

Directly protecting our environment is important in ensuring that our lands, waters, unique native species and ecosystems survive into the future.

Go to the overall progress tab and further info page for more information about protecting and looking after the natural environment.

How have we decided there has been progress?

We have decided that there has been progress in the direct protection of the natural environment in Australia over the last decade because the total terrestrial and marine area that is protected (our progress indicator for direct protection of the natural environment) has increased.

In 2010, 194 million hectares of both Australian terrestrial and marine area had a protected status. This represented a 37% increase in protected areas since 2002 when 142 million hectares were protected. Of the protected areas in 2010, 103 million hectares were terrestrial, representing 13% of Australia's mainland (including Tasmania), while 91 million hectares were marine.

Why this progress indicator?

Protecting the natural environment through the creation of protected areas is an important part of the aspiration protect and look after the natural environment more broadly.

The total area of Australia's lands and waters that are protected is considered a good measure of progress for direct protection of the natural environment because it can show how efforts to provide protection have been changing over time. While this indicator is able to show the growth in protected areas, what it is unable to show is how well these protected areas are managed in order to achieve their conservation/protection objectives.

Quality assessment (see key)

Image: Icon for 'Partial measure' This indicator is a partial measure of direct protection of the natural environment.

Image: Icon for 'High quality' The data source is of high quality.

Let's break it down!

Protected areas can be divided into several different International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management categories. Categories V and VI offer a higher level of human use than the lower categories do, though such use is still intended to be balanced and sustainable. Category V is a flexible category that 'may be able to accommodate contemporary developments such as ecotourism', while Category VI is based on 'a mutually beneficial relationship between nature conservation and the sustainable management of natural resources'. (UNEP, 2013)

In 2010, 40% of terrestrial protected areas were protected as IUCN Category V-VI. This was a higher proportion than in 2002 (30% in 2002).

In 2010, 45% of marine protected areas were protected as IUCN Category V-VI. This was lower than in 2002 (55%), however the proportion had moved around considerably over the period (e.g. 38% in 2004).

Use the drop down menu on the graph to look at other breakdowns of the indicator (graphs are also available on the further info page).

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to protecting and looking after the natural environment than direct protection. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of protecting and looking after the natural environment have progressed.

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

Graph Image for Native vegetation and wetlands on agricultural holdings protected for conservation purposes

Footnote(s): ^ 2007-08 estimate has a relative standard error of 10% to less than 25% and should be used with caution.

Source(s): ABS Land Management and Farming in Australia, 2011-12 (cat. no. 4627.0)

The prevention and minimisation of further damage to the natural environment in Australia has not changed greatly in recent years

Indicator: Proportion of native vegetation and wetlands on agricultural holdings being protected for conservation purposes

Why is this element important?

As a component of the broader aspiration to protect and look after our natural environment it is important to recognise where damage is occurring and aim to prevent or reduce it into the future.

Go to overall progress tab and further info page for more information about protecting and looking after the natural environment.

How have we decided things haven't changed greatly?

We have decided that there has been little change in the prevention and minimisation of further damage to the natural environment in recent years because the proportion of native vegetation and wetlands on agricultural holdings that were being protected for conservation purposes (our progress indicator for prevention and minimisation of further damage to the environment) hasn't moved much.

In 2011-12, 8% of native vegetation and wetlands on agricultural holdings were protected for conservation reasons (representing 20 million hectares). While 12% was protected for conservation reasons in 2007-08, the difference between these two years is not significant.

Why this progress indicator?

The protection of native vegetation and wetlands on agricultural land tells us about efforts to prevent and/or minimise damage to the natural environment as a part of the aspiration to protect and look after the natural environment.

The proportion of native vegetation and wetlands on agricultural holdings being protected for conservation purposes is considered a good measure of progress for prevention and minimisation of further damage to the environment because it demonstrates specific efforts within agricultural lands. Historically, agricultural activity has been responsible for significant negative impacts upon Australia's natural environment, such as the clearing of native vegetation, the alteration of water flows and the deterioration of soil and water quality in many areas (ABS, 2003). Agriculture maintains a direct influence on much of our land, as agricultural holdings represented just over half of Australia's total land area in 2011-12 (53%) (ABS, 2013).

The proportion of native vegetation and wetlands on agricultural holdings being protected for conservation purposes does not show the effectiveness of protection efforts, informal protection efforts, or protection of other important natural environments on agricultural holdings such as river and creek banks. Decisions about the protection of native vegetation or wetlands may also be influenced by changing climatic conditions (for example, if vegetation is considered to be thriving under good conditions, a farmer may see less need to protect it).

Quality assessment (see key)

Image: Icon for 'Partial measure' This indicator is a partial measure of the prevention and minimisation of further damage to the environment.

Image: Icon for 'High quality' The data source is of high quality.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to protecting and looking after the natural environment than preventing and minimising further damage. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of protecting and looking after the 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 restoring our natural 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.

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 protecting and looking after the natural environment than restoring damage. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of protecting and looking after the 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 effectiveness of programs protecting our 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.

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.

In the meantime though, the report 'Australia: State of the Environment, 2011' provides assessment grades for management effectiveness across a variety of specific issues of environmental concern.

But that is not the whole story...

There is more to protecting and looking after the natural environment than having effective programs. Look through the other tabs on this page to see if the other elements of protecting and looking after the 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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