Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2003
ISSN 1441 9335
Appendix 1 - Ecologically sustainable development and environmental performance
The following is a summary of the report by the Department of the Environment and Heritage for 2002-03 provided in accordance with section 516A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The complete section 516A report is on the Department's web site at www.ea.gov.au.
The following activities of the Department accord with the principles of ecologically sustainable development (ESD) by generally recognising and promoting the concept of ESD:
- administering the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Act 1997, both of which explicitly recognise these principles;
- working with other portfolios to reach positions for Australia to pursue within international multilateral forums and organisations. In 2002-03, international activities to promote ESD focused on:
- the World Summit on Sustainable Development;
- reform of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development arising from the World Summit;
- working with trade policy officials in developing Australia's position for the trade and environment aspects of the Doha Development Mandate and the proposed Australia-US free trade agreement;
- enhancing the guidelines and assistance provided to Commonwealth agencies to comply with their annual ESD reporting requirements under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act;
- administering programs which facilitate the delivery of ESD outcomes at the local level, including facilitating the Local Leaders in Sustainability Forum and managing the Environmental Resource Officers Program; and
- raising awareness of the concept of ESD, influencing community attitudes and behaviour, and encouraging community participation through public relations activities, environmental education and capacity building for environmental action.
The following activities accord with the principles of ESD, in particular the principle of integrating environmental, social, economic and equitable considerations:
- integrating interests of all stakeholders in decision-making processes such as under the Natural Heritage Trust, the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and as part of risk assessments and management frameworks in the Alligator Rivers region; and
- forming partnerships with Australian business and industry to improve their triple bottom line.
The following activities accord with the principles of ESD, especially by employing, or promoting the use of, the precautionary principle:
- consideration of the precautionary principle in making a number of decisions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (as listed in section 391 of the Act);
- providing advice, through the Minister, to the Gene Technology Regulator on environmental issues related to the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment; and
- providing information for decision-making through research, assessment and communication, thus minimising the potential threat of serious or irreversible damage to the environment on a precautionary basis, e.g. through the Australian Biological Resources Study, the National Vegetation Information System, and the Australian Natural Resources Atlas.
The following activities accord with the principles of ESD by aiming to promote conservation of the environment for the benefit of future generations:
- protecting the environment from the long-term impacts of nuclear actions through:
- the treatment of such actions as a matter of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Approval with conditions was granted for the National Low Level Radioactive Waste Repository in South Australia; and
- research conducted by the Supervising Scientist Division into the effects of uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region;
- collaborating with other Commonwealth departments and other jurisdictions to ensure that resources such as fisheries (through the Department's marine and coastal activities), freshwater and land resources (under the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality) are sustained for the benefit of future generations;
- protecting the environment from the long-term effects of hazardous substances, chemicals and organisms through its wastes, chemicals, atmosphere and industry programs by monitoring, risk assessment and risk management, destruction of hazardous substances, and reducing the release of harmful substances and chemicals into the atmosphere and the environment;
- conserving World Heritage properties, Commonwealth marine areas, Ramsar wetlands, and threatened and migratory species through their treatment as matters of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act;
- managing Commonwealth reserves under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act;
- conserving representative ecosystems through the National Reserve System and marine protected areas:
- in 2002-03 the area approved for preservation under the National Reserve System was 9 357 square kilometres made up of 43 properties. In addition a new Indigenous Protected Area was added to the National Reserve System. New properties added 78 previously unrepresented ecosystems;
- the world's largest marine protected area - the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve - was declared in October 2002;
- seven additional sites totalling two million hectares were added to the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention;
- identifying and conserving the natural, historic and cultural heritage, including Indigenous heritage places, for the benefit of future generations, including through:
- providing grants amounting to nearly $1.5 million in 2002-03 to a total of 101 community based environmental and heritage organisations to preserve or enhance the natural environment or conserve cultural heritage;
- providing information to identify long-term threats to the future health, diversity and productivity of the environment, for example through the State of the Environment Report and the National Vegetation Information System; and
- raising environmental awareness through the environmental education program, including among school children.
The following activities accord with the principles of ESD by ensuring that biodiversity and ecological integrity are fundamental to decision-making:
- continuing to protect and conserve the biodiversity and ecological integrity of Australia's Antarctic and sub-Antarctic territories;
- contributing to international decision-making, including in the development of multilateral agreements, relating to the conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological integrity through active participation in international forums and through bilateral cooperation with countries especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Achievements in 2002-03 included:
- the successful proposal for listing of a number of migratory marine species under the Convention on Migratory Species and contributions to setting the management framework for sustainable fisheries in the Southern Ocean;
- cooperation with Papua New Guinea to assess impacts of land-use change and with Indonesia to alleviate the impacts of Indonesian traditional fishing activities on the Australian marine environment;
- working with the Australian Customs Service and enforcement agencies to enforce the provisions of the wildlife trade amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, especially through assessing applications for and issuing permits;
- developing recovery plans and threat abatement plans for threatened species and communities:
- as at 30 June 2003 a total of 145 recovery plans had been made or adopted covering 191 nationally threatened species and 13 ecological communities;
- 16 amendments to the list of threatened species (including one delisting) two amendments to the list of threatened ecological communities and two additions to the list of key threatening processes were made in 2002-03;
- funding projects under the first phase of the Natural Heritage Trust which have contributed to recovery actions and management of nationally listed species;
- contributing to the management of threats posed by pests and weeds on land and the marine environment through the Introduced Marine Pests and Ballast Water Mitigation programs and the National Weeds Strategy;
- providing funding through the Natural Heritage Trust for establishing conservation covenants on private land covering nearly 200 properties in Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia;
- contributing to the protection of the marine environment and the conservation of marine biodiversity:
- in 2002-03 seven whale species and the great white shark were listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act;
- a recovery plan for the great white shark was approved by the Minister while draft recovery plans were produced for a number of marine species, including turtles, whales, seals and sharks;
- assessments of 13 Commonwealth-managed fisheries were carried out against the Guidelines for Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries; and
- providing high quality information to enable informed decision-making through the national State of the Environment Report, the Australian Biological Resources Study, the National Land and Water Resources Audit, the National Vegetation Information System, and research conducted by the Australian Antarctic Division and the Supervising Scientist Division.
The following activities accord with the principles of ESD by aiming to improve valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms:
- assisting other Commonwealth agencies and agencies from other jurisdictions to improve their ESD and environmental performance:
- in 2002-03 the Department developed a model environmental management system for government agencies which has been adopted by all Victorian state agencies;
- the Greening of Government Network was set up to exchange information on greening of government initiatives;
- working in partnership with Australian business and industry to improve valuation by industry to include environmental and social costs and benefits:
in 2002-03 the Department signed eco-efficiency agreements with ten industry associations bringing the total number to 34 associations representing 374 000 businesses;
- in 2002-03 the Department published Triple Bottom Line Reporting in Australia: A Guide to Reporting Against Environmental Indicators and Environmental Management Accounting - An Introduction and Case Studies;
- promoting best environmental management in the mining, minerals processing and building and construction sectors through the development of tools and guidelines; and
- promoting minimisation of waste production and improvement of environmental performance by all participants in the supply chain through product stewardship arrangements:
- in 2002-03 the Department assisted 240 local governments with waste oil collection facilities and, through benefit payments, enabled the recycling of approximately 194 million litres of waste oil products;
- under the National Packaging Covenant a dialogue on plastic carry bags was facilitated to reduce their use and consequent effects on marine life. The covenant currently covers 617 signatories and represents 80 per cent of domestic products;
- the Department assisted in the development of a product stewardship commitment by the Australian vinyl industry.
The Department's role is to achieve two major outcomes for the Commonwealth Government. These outcomes are:
- the environment, especially those aspects that are matters of national environmental significance, is protected and conserved; and
- Australia's interests in Antarctica are advanced.
The first outcome contributes directly to ESD by protecting and conserving the environment, with its major focus on threats that are serious enough to be of national significance. Thus it contributes to protecting biodiversity and ecological systems and to maintaining the health, diversity and productivity of the environment for future generations. Outputs which deliver the ESD aspects of this outcome are discussed in Section 1 of this appendix.
The second outcome does not explicitly contribute to ESD; however one of the goals of the Australian Antarctic Division is to protect the Antarctic environment, the Southern Ocean and the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands, by: developing ways to minimise human impact, remediating past work sites, administering environmental legislation, developing policy and undertaking research. This outcome thus contributes to ESD by providing information that enables biodiversity conservation and ecological systems to be considered in decision-making, and by protecting the health and diversity of the Antarctic environment for future generations.
The Department's mission of national leadership in the protection and conservation of the environment ensures that the effect on the environment of most of its activities, including policies, programs and administration of legislation, is a positive one. Positive effects of the Department's activities on the environment in 2002-03 are detailed throughout this annual report.
In the course of its normal daily operations, the Department also contributes to negative impacts on the environment through its use of electricity, petrol, water, paper and other materials consumed and through its generation of waste. The Department's tenant light and power consumption for 2002-03 was 1 379 935 kWh. Figures for water, paper and other material consumables are not available. Measures to address these negative impacts are noted in Section 4 of this appendix.
Through a structured environmental management system, which has been certified to the international standard ISO 14001, the Department monitors a range of its operational activities including the management of energy, water and wastes, transport (the departmental fleet), and purchasing. The environmental management system provides a framework for considering and minimising environmental impacts within the context of continual improvement.
Significant achievements in 2002-03 include:
- a 20 per cent reduction equivalent to 330 851kWh on last year's reported tenant, light and power consumption;
- approximately 42 per cent less energy used than the Commonwealth energy target of 10 000 MJ/pp/annum for office tenant, light and power;
- 104 117kg of paper and cardboard and 15 311kg of co-mingled material consigned for recycling;
- 120 tonnes of waste diverted away from landfill;
- 16 tonnes of organic waste sent to a commercial worm farm;
- certification to ISO 14001 retained at the surveillance audit of the environmental management system for the Canberra offices; and
- a reduction in the pool fleet by another vehicle, bringing the total reduction in vehicle numbers to six. The departmental fleet retained its subscription to Greenfleet and as a result of this, 561 trees were planted to offset 142 tonnes of CO2 in 2002-03.
Additionally, the Department:
- is on target, under the Greenhouse Challenge Agreement, to achieve a 10 per cent reduction in energy consumption over five years;
- continues to use renewable green power for the John Gorton Building. In 2002-03 the Department consumed 1 144 022kWh or (4118GJ) of green power (which resulted in nil CO2 emissions);
- has established environmental initiatives that are being incorporated into the refurbishment of the communications centre adjacent to the John Gorton Building, including 100 per cent green power supply, solar hot water to satisfy all hot water needs, and recycling of 97 per cent of all demolition waste rather than consigning to landfill;
- has initiated a contract for 10 per cent of electricity supply to be sourced from green power for the Australian National Botanic Gardens in addition to implementing a 25 per cent reduction in water use by the Gardens;
- has incorporated a range of environmental initiatives in the design of the new office, accommodation and laboratory facilities in Darwin and is in the process of gaining accreditation to ISO 14001 standard for the new facility's environmental management system;
- has gained a 6 per cent reduction in fuel consumption in the Antarctic continental stations through, among other measures, implementation of wind turbines in Mawson station and use of building monitoring and control systems;
- is incorporating energy efficient features in the construction and refurbishment of the Australian Antarctic Division's headquarters in Kingston; and
- has incorporated environmental evaluation into all proposed developments in parks and reserves managed by the Commonwealth, as well as regular monitoring and reporting on environmental performance as part of the park management plans.
The environmental management system for the Canberra offices is reviewed every three years for certification to the ISO 14001 standard. This review, as well as internal reviews of the environmental management systems for the other office locations, is used to identify and address the negative environmental impacts within the context of continual improvement.