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1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/09/2010   
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Environment

Australia's environment is fundamental to the quality of life and sense of wellbeing of Australians, as well as providing key inputs to the economy. 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 this commentary, progress refers to a reduction in threats to the environment and improvements in the health of our ecosystems.

The headline dimensions that help Australians assess whether our environment has improved include:

The presentation of these dimensions is largely consistent with other major environmental reports, most notably the State of the Environment report produced five yearly under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act,1999 (EPBC Act).

Land, biodiversity, water and air are integral parts of Australia's environment and are inextricably linked. For example, changes in the health of inland waters, such as reduced river flows, can affect biodiversity, while changes in land use can affect inland waters, biodiversity and estuaries.

Not only do Australia's plants, animals and ecosystems sustain life, but they are also key contributors to economic growth as inputs to production. For example, the use of water for agricultural production.

The overlap between environment dimensions means that indicators in this publication will often relate to more than one dimension. For example, annual area of land cleared is discussed under the dimension of land, but with its relationship to loss of habitat and loss of carbon sink it could also be discussed under either the Biodiversity or Atmosphere dimensions.


Biodiversity

Our plants, animals and ecosystems bring important economic and social benefits and Australia's unique environmental assets are recognised globally. Native vegetation has cultural, aesthetic and recreational importance to many Australians. Most importantly, the ways in which organisms interact with each other and their environment are important to human survival: we rely on ecosystems that function properly for clean air and water and healthy soil.

Land

Soil resources are an important natural asset. Degraded soil affects agricultural productivity, wildlife habitat and water quality.

Water

Water is fundamental to the survival of people and other organisms. Apart from drinking water, much of our economy (agriculture in particular) relies on water. The condition of freshwater ecosystems has a critical impact on the wider environment, especially for sustaining native wildlife and vegetation.

Estuaries and oceans

Our beaches, estuaries and wider marine ecosystems play an important role in Australian life. The oceans support a vast array of marine life and many of our marine ecosystems are globally important, such as the Great Barrier Reef which is the largest coral reef system in the world.

The atmosphere

The atmosphere surrounding our planet plays a role in supporting life on earth: oxygen is required to sustain living animals; a layer of ozone shields us from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun; and greenhouse gases, predominantly carbon dioxide, maintain the surface temperature of the earth at levels that can sustain life. Poor air quality has a range of negative impacts: it can cause health problems, damage infrastructure, reduce crop yields and harm plants and animals. Greenhouse gases and air pollution occur both naturally and as a result of human activities.

Waste

Waste is a by-product of many human activities. Many economic activities generate waste - solid, liquid and gaseous wastes are a by-product of many productive processes, and goods (or their packages) may be discarded by consumers. Waste can be expensive to deal with, can have a damaging impact on the environment, and can affect peoples health and wellbeing.

 

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