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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

What the Indicators Show

Population: The Context

Rationale for inclusion of issue

The total population and the population growth rate do not, in themselves, indicate whether or not we are sustaining what we value. Many other factors, including settlement patterns, environmental practices, technology, pricing policies, lifestyle, education and community values can significantly modify the impact of population on the environment.

Nevertheless, population indicators do provide the context for this Report. The total Australian resident population is the number of people for whom all aspects of well-being need to be provided. The size of the population also influences the viability of the social and economic infrastructure and support systems which make individual and community well-being possible. It is also the total number of people consuming and impacting on the resource base and the ecological systems upon which all life depends.

Contextual population indicators

Total Australian (resident) population at June 2000 1

19 104 556

Australian population growth rate  2

1.16 p

Proportion of the resident population living in urban areas at August 1996  3


Proportion of the total resident population who are working age, 15-64 at June 2000  4


p: Preliminary figure subject to revision

1. Source: ABS Cat No. 1301.0
2. Source: ABS Cat No. 3201.0
3. Source: Adapted from ABS Cat. No. 3102.0 Australian Demographic Trends
4. Source: ABS Cat No. 2032.0 Australia In Profile.


Time series data show that Australia's population has been steadily growing, ageing and concentrating itself in urban areas. In general, at the same time, per capita consumption and waste generation are increasing. Actual population trends also need to be read in the context of fertility, mortality and immigration rates.

The ageing of the population has potential implications for the future of the workforce and therefore for the sustainability of economic well-being. The concentration of the population in urban areas has implications for the economic well-being of people living in rural areas and the environmental well-being of people living in urban areas. Overall population growth, coupled with increased per capita consumption and waste generation, increases the total pressure on resources and ecological systems.

Australia's population is expected to stabilise at about 24 million by 2050. To maintain the current standard of individual and community well-being for that population, as measured by per capita GNP, GNP would have to increase by about $157 billion over this period. At current consumption levels, energy consumption would increase by 1.7 petajoules (a petajoules, PJ is 1015 joules), and solid waste emissions would increase by about 6.4 million tonnes.

However, it should be noted that the inter-relationship of population and the environment is complex and variable. There is a relatively direct relationship with urban air emissions but a less direct relationship with land clearing, the use of water for agriculture and the use of energy by the smelting industry.

Recent consumption and emissions data (below) provide a baseline against which future trends in consumption per capita and per GDP may be measured.

Resident population: Time series data (as at 30 June)

Year'000 Population
1950 8178.69
1955 9199.72
1960 10275.02
1965 11387.66
1970 12507.34
1975 13892.99
1980 14695.35
1985 15788.31
1990 17065.12
1995 18049.01
2000 19104.55

Resident population: Time series data (as at 30 June)

Source: Adapted from ABS Cat. No. 3102.0 Australian Demographic Trends

Resident population growth rates: Time series data






Growth Rate%





Population growth rate by year

Population growth rate by year

Source: ABS Cat No. 3201.0

Supplementary indicators: per capita and per GDP consumption and emissions

Consumption and emissions by population

Water consumption per capita (1996-97)  1

1.2 ML

Food consumption per capita (in 1998-99)  2

653.5 kg

Greenhouse emissions per capita (in 1998)  3

24.3 T

Energy consumption per capita(in 1997-98)  5

257.5 GJ

Waste water generation per capita (in 1996-97)  4

2.67 ML

Solid waste generation per capita (in 1996-97)  5

1.15 T

Consumption and emissions by GDP

Water consumption by GDP (in 1996-97)  1

41.68 L per $1 GDP

Greenhouse emissions by GDP (in 1996-97)  3

0.82 kg per $1 GDP

Energy consumption by GDP (in 1997-98)  5

8.54 GJ per $1 GDP

Waste water generation by GDP (in 1996-97)  4

93 L per $1 GDP

Solid waste generation by GDP (at 1996-97)  5

39.88 T per $m GDP

1 Source: Adapted from ABS Cat No. 5204.0
2 Source: ABS Cat No. 4306.0, Apparent Consumption of Foodstuffs
3 Source: National Greenhouse Gas Inventory
4 Source: Adapted from ABS Cat No. 4610.0
5 Source: ABS Cat No. 1301.0 2001 Yearbook Australia

Additional supplementary indicators

Main Set

Core objective 1: (a) enhancing individual and community well-being and welfare


For the purposes of this Report, the values on which individual and community well-being and welfare are considered to depend are:

A further aspect of individual and community well-being relates to the functioning of the community as a society. Identification of either a headline, or supplementary indicators for this was not attempted in this initial set. It is noted that some possible approaches which have been considered include an indicator relating to social cohesion or social capital, or some other overarching idea which encompasses a range of valued aspects of our society, such as political and civil liberty, legal and social justice and national security. The development of indicators for a range of these factors is in process and the results of this will be considered in further reports.

Another important issue for which a headline indicator is required is communities' access to infrastructure. This is viewed as a key indicator for identifying locational differences in opportunities. Development of indicators in this field has been limited by the lack of comprehensive data on public, private and community service availability and access.

Some time series data for indicators of progress against the objective of enhancing individual and community well?being and welfare, particularly the social and economic indicators, are available. Generally these data show that most of the aspects of our well-being that are measured by social and economic indicators are slowly improving.

However, more time series data on the environmental aspects of individual and community well-being are needed to determine whether we are sustaining all aspects of individual and community well-being.

Time series data against the indicators of biodiversity and ecological systems will, in any case, be needed before any conclusions can be drawn about whether any aspect of our well-being is sustainable.