Introduction to the Regional State of the Environment Report 2004-2009
This 2004-09 Regional State of the Environment Report (RSoER) is the fourth for the Australian Capital Region. It covers the period of July 2004 - June 2009 and comprises individual reports for the 17 local government areas of Bega Valley, Boorowa, Bombala, Cooma-Monaro, Cootamundra, Eurobodalla, Gundagai, Goulburn-Mulwaree, Harden, Palerang, Queanbeyan City, Tumbarumba, Tumut, Snowy River, Upper Lachlan, Yass Valley and Young.
Each Report has been written and presented with the aim of providing:
- an effective tool for community engagement; and
- information to guide future strategic planning.
The joint approach of Councils working together as a region to develop a RSoER is at the cutting edge of reporting. It is an important step in developing a regional overview and a base for measuring our progress towards increased sustainability for the Region. A regional sustainability overview has been developed as a separate chapter.
Legislative reporting requirements
Under New South Wales legislation each council is required to produce a State of Environment Report based on eight sectors (i) land (ii) air (iii) water (iv) biodiversity (v) waste (vi) noise (vii) Aboriginal heritage (viii) non-Aboriginal heritage.
This 2004-2009 RSoER meets the requirements of the NSW Local Government Act 1993 s428 (2) (c) and pays particular regard to each environmental sector with reference to:(i) management plans relating to the environment (ii) special council projects relating to the environment and (iii) the environmental impact of council activities.
Structure of the report
Environmental issues papers
The RSoER presents an assessment of ecological and socio-economic data in four environmental issues papers addressing:
- Atmosphere and weather
- Resource Use
A synthesis of key information from relevant indicators, a summary of the major findings, and an assessment of what the findings mean for the future, is provided in each of the four papers.
Underpinning these issues papers are 22 indicators. An indicator is a measure, with analysis and interpretation, which allows the assessment of a critical aspect of the state of the environment. The indicators used for the 2004-2009 RSoER build on those used in previous regional reports.
The use of indicators to underpin the evaluation of environmental issues allows the inter-relationships between indicators to be explored. Synthesising the results of several indicators allows an evaluation to be made for each environmental issue.
A single indicator may be relevant to more than one environmental issue. For example, the indicator Landuse is relevant to the Catchment Quality, Conserving Biodiversity and Resource Use issues.
This RSoER differs from previous RSoERs in that it:
- includes a ‘snapshot’ highlighting a recent environmental initiative by each Council;
- presents a chapter on future sustainability challenges and opportunities for the whole region. This inclusion strengthens and reflects the joint approach of the current RSoER;
- has 22 indicators compared with 34 as in earlier RSoERs; social and economic indicators previously included in RSoERs are now covered in local government Social Plans.
- two of the previous issues papers - Resource Use and Community Wellbeing - have been integrated into one Resource Use paper as requested by the Councils at a 2007 Workshop. Our aim has been to link State of Environment reporting with Councils' human and natural resource management and planning, and their day-to-day management operations.
The 'Condition–Pressure–Response' model has guided decisions on which data to collect, analyse and report in the RSoER for the Australian Capital Region.
Condition indicators provide the data that tell us what the quality of the environment is at any particular time and allow us to assess changes over time. A Condition Indicator for biodiversity, for example, could be the amount of weeds in an area, whether this affects the biodiversity of the area and whether the number and types of weeds are increasing or decreasing.
Pressure indicators present data for the main human activities that potentially could adversely affect the condition of the environment. For example, we know that land clearing and human movement are major causes of weed infestations. A Pressure Indicator tells us how bad this pressure is and whether it is getting better or worse.
Response indicators present data about the main things we are doing to alleviate ‘pressures’, or to improve the ‘condition’ of the environment. For example, weed infestations can be reduced initially though community and government work to remove the weeds and then by effective policies of land management and human and vehicular movement in protected areas.
We consider the 'Condition–Pressure–Response' model is fundamental to ensuring that an analysis of the environment is conducted in a systematic way and that data are collected in a way that allows reliable evaluation of the environment and of the way it may be changing as a result of human activities. The model has been adapted from the Pressure-State-Response model of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
About the data
Data for the RSoER has been sourced from Councils as well as other sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catchment Management Authorities and NSW Government Agencies, in particular, the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change and Water (DECCW) and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).
One of the challenges of reporting at a local government area level is the limited available data; many of the 17 Local Government Shires/Councils do not have the available resources to collect comprehensive data for their areas.
Councils have been of great assistance in supplying data, where available, and checking the quality of data and papers for this RSoER.
Future Reporting Requirements
The introduction of new reporting requirements in the form of the NSW Local Government Amendment Planning and Reporting Act 2009, means that in future, every local council must prepare an SoE report that addresses the environmental objectives identified in the Council's ten year Community Strategic Plan (also introduced through the reforms). Section 428A of the Act requires that:
(1) The annual report of a council in the year in which an ordinary election of councillors is to be held must include a report (a state of the environment report) as to thte state of the environment in the local government area in relation to such environmental issues as may be relevant to the objectives for the environment established by the community strategic plan (the environmental objectives)
(2) A state of the environment report must be prepared in accordance with the guidelines under section 406.
(3) The state of the environment report is to:
(a) establish relevant environmental indicators for each environmental objective, and
(b) report on, and update trends in, each such environmental indicator, and
(c) identify all major environmental impacts (being events and activities that have a major impact on environmental objectives)
(4) A state of the environment report for a council's area may be prepared as part of and for the purposes of a state of the environment report for a larger area (such as a region or a catchment management area) and a report for the larger area that may be included in the council's annual report as the council's state of the environment report.