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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Value 4: Air Quality

Rationale for inclusion of issue

Air quality has direct impacts on human health and enjoyment of life, especially in urban areas.

Indicator 5

Number of occasions where concentrations of pollutants exceeded NEPM standards for ambient air quality in major urban areas in 1999-2000 98

Source: NEPC Annual Report 1999-2000

Rationale for selection of indicator

Instances of concentrations of pollutants in the atmosphere reflects the distribution of air pollutants over time and are monitored in all large cities. Therefore this is an indicator or the environmental well-being of a large number of Australians.

Indicator 6

Total SOx, NOx and particulate emissions in 1999-2000 3.6b kg

Source: National Pollutant Inventory

Rationale for selection of indicator

Total emissions shows trends in the quantity of significant pollutants released into the atmosphere. While, because of locational issues, trends in emissions may not always translate into trends in air quality for the majority of Australians, the two indicators need to be read together to show whether access to clean air is generally being sustained.

Explanatory and elaborative information

The 98 occasions on which concentrations of pollutants exceeded NEPM standards includes only occasions which have been reported in the NEPC Annual Report for 1999-2000. This indicator covers only large cities, but this is where most exceedences are likely to occur. Broader coverage is unlikely to affect the data significantly. While all reported pollutants are included, not all jurisdictions monitor all pollutants. This figure is therefore an under-estimate. An upward trend in this indicator could therefore indicate better reporting rather than a decline in air quality.

The total SOx, NOx and particulate emissions includes all major emitters (either modelled or reported) in major airsheds. It does not include emissions from facilities emitting under the reporting threshold, and it includes only major airsheds. Emissions from transport and light industry outside urban areas are not included. The total figure is therefore also an under-estimate.

Ideally, trends in the first indicator should, on their own, provide an adequate measure of whether we are sustaining our air quality. However, the second indicator needs to be read together with trends in pollution emissions. Although both are under-estimates, together they may give a more realistic picture of trends in air quality. It will be possible to monitor future trends in both indicators.

Supplementary indicator

Core objective 1: (b) economic development that safeguards the welfare of future generations


For the purposes of this report, the values on which economic development are considered to depend are:

Time series data are available for most of the economic indicators and show that, generally, our economic development is continuing in a positive direction. However, time series data will need to be examined for the natural resource management indicators before any definitive assessment can be made of whether we are sustaining our economic 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.