The key messages from this State of the Environment Report are positive. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) environment is in good condition and it is mainly well managed. On the defining issue of climate change, the ACT community has supported its government to act locally and show leadership that can inspire other jurisdictions to commit to action.
This evidence-based report by the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment captures and presents key information on the state of the ACT environment. It undertakes the important task of collating the best information available and standing back to assess how our environment is faring on our watch.
The report provides an assessment of the state and trends of the key environmental indicators, the pressures on the environment and the drivers of those pressures and their impacts. It also examines the management initiatives that are in place to address environmental concerns and the effect of those initiatives. A new component of the report is an assessment of the resilience of ecosystem services provided by the environment to the people of the ACT. This assessment evaluated the capacity of our local environment to continue to provide services such as clean water, air, stable and healthy soil, and a diversity of flora and fauna integral to achieving sustainability in the ACT.
The context for the report is an increasingly highly modified natural environment. Human impact has reached even the most remote areas of wilderness and climate change poses a significant threat. By far the most significant challenge to the environment that supports life on our planet is climate change. This is a challenge that requires decisive action at local, city, state and global scales. We must manage these threats and impacts and we cannot wait until we have perfect information before acting. What we can do is work with the best information available. The ACT is in the fortunate position of having an incredible wealth of scientific and practical environmental expertise. We are generally well placed to make informed decisions while continuing to build our knowledge base and recalibrating our actions. This ‘adaptive management’ approach is a logical, rational and cost-effective way to proceed.
The people of the ACT should be proud that they have supported significant and leading action on climate change. The ACT Government has committed to achieving the targets of meeting 100% of its energy consumption needs with renewable energy by 2025 and reducing the ACT’s greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. We must lend strong and unwavering support to follow through on commitments and action to reduce our emissions in the face of social, economic and political changes. We must continue to value scientific evidence and work actively with partners in other jurisdictions and other nations.
We have also generally managed the local environment well, using an adaptive management approach. Where there are concerns and issues that the Commissioner has raised previously, there is evidence of effort to address these. In line with recommendations in the 2011 State of the Environment Report, the ACT Government has taken action to improve sustainability through developing major strategies around sustainability including the Climate Change Strategy, Action Plans and Greenhouse Gas emission targets legislation, the Water Strategy, the Nature Conservation Strategy, the ACT Planning Strategy, Transport for Canberra and the ACT Waste Management Strategy.
Nevertheless, there are some areas where the report’s assessments of air, land, water, biodiversity and heritage show that management decisions are not always resulting in improvements to environmental outcomes.
Where it is considered there is still work to be done, recommendations have been made to the ACT Government. The main areas are:
- considering integrated monitoring, reporting and evaluation all the key environmental strategies
- ensuring the new Climate Change Adaptation Strategy is best practice
- making more use of strategic environmental assessments to reduce and manage cumulative and cross-sectoral impacts on the environment, and considering air quality impacts of future urban developments
- resourcing foundation knowledge development including monitoring of landscape function and soils and the effectiveness of conservation programs, and improving biodiversity conservation data collection and storage
- assessing drivers of the poor condition of water resources as shown by the indicators for total nitrogen, turbidity, chlorophyll-a and ecological condition, and the need for more data
- commencing a program to assess and monitor the condition of heritage places and objects on the ACT Heritage Register in cooperation with the ACT Heritage Council.
The community and the future
Reducing the global environmental impact of our consumption stands out as a major long-term challenge that requires investment and commitment to changing behaviour across all sectors of our society and our economy. It is not readily tackled by governments alone. As a well-educated and affluent community we understand that our lifestyle choices will shape the environment that our children and grandchildren will live in. Our choices profoundly affect the ecological services that our environment can provide for us and them.
As individuals and as a community we must make considered and informed choices in our everyday lives and move toward levels and patterns of consumption that enable the ACT to reduce its ecological footprint, and in doing so reduce our demands on ecosystem services.
For our community, the long-term challenge then becomes:
- to find better ways of seeking out the goods and services that can be delivered in the most footprint-efficient way. This could mean choosing products that are energy and water efficient to use, durable, and recyclable when they are no longer usable
- to seek out alternatives to consuming products including cultural, community and sporting and volunteer activities such as park care and land care
- to support a community focus on a range of leisure activities for all age groups that will make it attractive to spend time in activities rather than money on goods.
In the longer term, these are the kinds of responses from all of us that are needed to ‘future proof’ our community in the face of climate change and the increasing pressures that we are placing on the earth’s ecosystems. By acting individually and as a community and supporting government action, we can transform our society in a safe, fair and manageable way to a new more sustainable future.