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Publications archive - Ecologically Sustainable Development


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Are We Sustaining Australia? Report Against Headline Sustainabilty Indicators

Environment Australia, 2002
ISBN 0 642 54771 8

Development of Indicators

Purpose of Headline Sustainability Indicators

The indicator set has been developed in consultation with all Commonwealth agencies, other jurisdictions, key interest groups and the general public. The indicators must be read as a set. While each individual indicator may reflect important issues in its own right, none of the indicators, read in isolation, tells us much about sustainability. Only read together, and over time, will they tell us whether the things we need and value are being sustained without eroding other things we need or value - and hence whether our way of life is becoming sustainable.

The set is not intended to be comprehensive but rather to give a broad view, reflecting on a wide range of issues with a relatively small amount of information.

Purpose of the Report

Over time, these reports will inform the community in a relatively easy-to-read way of how well we are sustaining what we want to sustain. Each subsequent report will provide a snapshot of the collective outcomes of all the actions of the community, showing what we have sustained and what we have not sustained from one report to the next.

This first Report is primarily a tool for raising awareness in the Australian community of sustainability issues. It will assist all sectors of the Australian community to think in an integrative, multi-dimensional way about the full range of activities in which human society is engaged and how they interact - in other words to think in terms of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD).

Future trends in these indicators will help us to identify any major threats to our national well-being - but only by providing a starting point for tracking an underlying cause to a larger, "parent" set of data, for example, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publications, the national State of the Environment (SoE) Report and projects of the National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA). These parent data sets contain many additional indicators which provide a more comprehensive story. The parent sets also allow headline indicators which summarise or aggregate data to be broken back down by scale or sub-population, to particular bio-geographical or socio-economic regions or local jurisdictions or to particular groups within the population.

It should be noted that some of the data for the agreed indicators are still being gathered in these other contexts, and are not available for this Report. Where data against the agreed headline indicator are not yet available, the best interim indicator for which data are available has been used.

Selection of indicators

Each indicator in this set is selected as the most representative, significant or comprehensible from a much more extensive parent set (such as SoE reporting or ABS publications, or the NLWRA). The chosen indicator is only one of many that might have been selected. The parent set is the data source for the indicator and also provides the context in which data for the indicator have been collected. The Report references the source and parent set of each headline indicator.

As far as possible, all the indicators which have been chosen are:

There are two agreed headline indicators for which data are not currently available and for which appropriate interim indicators have not been identified. These are:

It is not expected that data will be available against either of these indicators in the foreseeable future. Consequently, further reference to them has been omitted from this report.

Supplementary indicators

A range of supplementary indicators to the headline indicators have been suggested but they require further development. The supplementary indicators will enable some rounding out of the picture provided by the headline indicators. Like the headline indicators, they are selected from much larger sets on the basis of being representative, significant and comprehensible, and are not intended to be comprehensive. They provide a series of check points. If they concur with the headline indicator, then it is reasonable to conclude that the headline indicator is giving a fair picture of the value to which it is ascribed. If a supplementary indicator disagrees with the headline, it may indicate that further investigation of the parent sets could be warranted.

This Report identifies supplementary indicators , but does not generally include data against them. Two exceptions where data for supplementary indicators are presented are consumption and waste generation data per capita and per GDP which are included because they give some meaning to the contextual population indicators.

Future development of the indicators

Each of the indicators in this set is regarded as the best that is currently available or likely to be available in the near future for the value to which it has been ascribed. The indicator set should be considered always under review and subject to refinement. Individual indicators will change as data become available for superior indicators, as understanding of correlations and inter-relationships within and between the different aspects of our way of life improves and as the values of our society continue to evolve. Whatever the indicators show should be seen as the best approximation of the current status for that issue that we can manage at any given time.

If new headline indicators are substituted in the future, reporting on both old and new indicators will need to continue for some time, in order to provide comparable time series data to show the trends which are crucial to the story presented by the set. Changes in methodologies for measuring data against an indicator will also need to be noted.

Inter-generational equity

Providing for equity between generations is part of Core Objective 2 of the NSESD. To meet this objective of inter-generational equity, we must ensure that future generations have access to the same standard of well-being as the current generation. Inter-generational equity therefore requires that all aspects of individual and community well-being and the ecological systems upon which life depends are sustained.

However, this Report includes no specific indicators of inter-generational equity. It treats sustainability and inter-generational equity as virtually synonymous. The indicator set, as a whole, is designed to tell us over time whether we are maintaining biodiversity and ecological processes, all aspects of human well-being, and an equitable distribution of these within the current population; therefore the set as a whole and over time will tell us whether we are ensuring inter-generational equity.