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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Summary Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development

Prepared by the ESD Steering Committee
December 1993
ISBN 0 642 20160 9

This document is the text of the first Summary Report on the Implementation of Australia's National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD). It was prepared for the information of the Council of Australian Governments in December 1993 by the Intergovernmental Committee for Ecologically Sustainable Development (ICESD).


  1. Introduction
  2. Overview of Progress During 1993
  3. Report on Sectoral and Intersectoral Issues
    1. Agriculture
    2. Fisheries Ecosystem Management
    3. Forest Resource Use and Management
    4. Manufacturing
    5. Mining
    6. Urban and Transport Planning
    7. Tourism
    8. Energy Use, Energy Production and Transport
    9. Biological Diversity
    10. Nature Conservation Systems
    11. Native Vegetation
    12. Environment Protection
    13. Land Use Planning and Decision Making
    14. Natural Resource and Environment Information
    15. Environmental Impact Assessment
    16. Changes to Government Institutions and Machinery
    17. Coastal Zone Management
    18. Water Resource Management
    19. Waste Minimisation and Management
    20. Pricing and Taxation
    21. Industry, Trade and Environment Policy
    22. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
    23. Gender Issues
    24. Public Health
    25. Occupational Health and Safety
    26. Education and Training
    27. Employment and Adjustment
    28. Australia's International Cooperation and Overseas Development Assistance Program
    29. Population Issues
    30. Research Development and Demonstration (RD&; D)
    31. Conflict Management
    32. Community Awareness, Education and Participation
    33. Monitoring and Review

Part 1. Introduction

The National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD) was endorsed at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Perth in December 1992 by all Heads of Government. The Strategy evolved over several years prior to this through extensive consultation with all levels of government, business, industry, academia, voluntary conservation organisations, community based groups and individuals.

The over-riding goal of the NSESD is for "development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends".

The NSESD, in addition to identifying specific actions to be undertaken to implement Ecologically Sustainable Development also contains a number of requirements for review and monitoring of implementation. Specifically, the Strategy states that the ESD Steering Committee, containing representatives of all levels of government, will monitor the performance and development of the Strategy by "coordinating a report to Heads of Government one year after the endorsement of this Strategy on initial progress in implementing the Strategy", with a further report "every two years thereafter, or as called upon by Heads of Government, on matters which need to be drawn to their attention for decision".

The ESD Steering Committee (ESDSC) is an intergovernmental committee established in November 1991 at the direction of Heads of Government. The ESDSC's original task was

"to co-ordinate the assessment of the many recommendations (provided by ESD working groups) and their implications for current and future government policies". Subsequently the ESDSC was made responsible for the preparation of the NSESD, and as mentioned above, the ESDSC now has an ongoing role in reporting on implementation of the NSESD.

This report has been prepared to fulfil the Strategy's initial reporting requirement. The emphasis of this first report is on providing a summary of implementation progress to date. The main section of this report has been prepared on the basis of reporting on the achievement of the objectives of each of the Chapters in the Strategy. The report also identifies the major achievements of the Strategy to date and provides a broad assessment of progress.

The information contained in this report has been provided by the states and territories (excluding Western Australia which did not participate on the ESDSC during the reporting stage), relevant Commonwealth departments and agencies, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) and relevant Ministerial Councils. Each of the above mentioned bodies was requested to prepare a report on the implementation of the NSESD in their area of responsibility. These individual reports have provided the basis for the preparation of this report.

This first report on the ESD Strategy does not attempt to measure progress against indicators, either at the level of individual actions or in terms of an overall indication of sustainability. Work has been initiated on sustainability indicators with a view to meeting the Strategy objective of developing performance measures as a means of indicating overall progress towards ESD.

Part 2. Overview of Progress During 1993

In its first year of implementation the National Strategy for ESD has been instrumental in the initiation of a number of projects, studies and actions to implement a more sustainable form of development.

Reports received from governments of all levels and Ministerial Councils on the National Strategy's implementation identify a wide range of ESD initiatives that are promoting an Ecologically Sustainable Development ethos. This ethos provides a framework which links actions that might otherwise seem unconnected, from energy efficiency to native vegetation clearance, taxation to gender, trade to recycling. Ensuring the ecological sustainability of the actions in these areas is the thread which links these diverse actions.

A year is not a long time in implementing a strategy of the dimensions of the NSESD. While many of the actions it includes were either underway or about to be initiated when the Strategy was released, it has played a significant role in focusing attention on certain issues, in accelerating action in others and in ensuring that greater priority is accorded a particular action in terms of resources. In a number of key areas, there has been significant progress in implementing the Strategy.

In agriculture, the National Landcare Program has facilitated the development of a framework of integrated government policies and programs for natural resource management as well as drawing on the vast community resources to tackle the issue of adopting sustainable farming practices. Each jurisdiction has reported on a number of major actions such as progress towards national pest and weed strategies, sustainable land management, training for farm managers and development of property management plans.

The manufacturing and service sectors are adopting Best Practice Environmental Management as a way of remaining competitive in terms of the international market place and also as part of an overall improvement in environmental performance. Industry and government are cooperating in the international arena to phase out ozone depleting substances and have collaborated to develop a strategy for phasing out consumption and production of CFCs at least cost to industry.

The NSESD's objectives for the mining industry are being pursued via the cooperative implementation of actions between the Commonwealth, States and Territories through the Australian and New Zealand Minerals and Energy Council (ANZMEC). Processes for reporting to ANZMEC on identified issues have been put in place. Jurisdictions have reported on progress for a number of actions undertaken in relation to mining.

There has been overall a positive response to the need for integrated urban and transport planning. Planning agencies in most jurisdictions have recently instigated research or report preparation into ways to further integrate affordable residential development, urban consolidation and energy and transport efficiencies.

The National Tourism Strategy identifies the economic, environmental, social and support goals which will provide the basis for the development of an ecologically sustainable tourism industry. The importance of the tourism industry to Australia's States and Territories, and the need to maintain the environmental values of tourist resources, have been influential in jurisdictions focussing on the development of individual tourism strategies.

The natural resource area has seen considerable progress in the commencement of the preparation of a number of management strategies for such issues as Biodiversity and Endangered Species and Communities.

Actions in regard to the NSESD's objectives for energy use, energy production and transport are covered in the report on the implementation of the National Greenhouse Response Strategy.

Work on the establishment of the National Environment Protection Authority has continued through 1993, concentrating on the preparation of Commonwealth and State and Territory draft Bills. These are well advanced and will be forwarded to the Council of Australian Governments early in 1994.

The National Water Quality Management Strategy provides a framework through which water quality issues are being addressed. The need for integrated catchment planning is being recognised by jurisdictions as the most appropriate means of implementing sustainable use of water resources, and planning and legislative measures are being undertaken to implement sustainable practices.

A reduction in the impact of waste disposal on the environment is being actively pursued by a proposed 50% reduction in waste going to land fill by the year 2000. Achievement of this goal is being pursued by actions directed at industry and the community, through a number of measures including recycling, cleaner production and increased efficiencies.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) is developing an environmental policy to address the needs of indigenous peoples in conjunction with promoting ESD principles. Many jurisdictions now have mechanisms whereby Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' heritage concerns can be taken into account in decision making.

Australia's international aid program now includes consideration of ESD principles in it's programs. In addition to activities in the Australian development cooperation program, that have a specific environmental focus, Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB) ensures that environmental considerations are taken into account in the design and implementation of all activities.

Environmental education is being promoted both in the school and tertiary systems, as well as industry sectors including agriculture and fisheries. As part of the national collaborative curriculum development project, ESD principles have been taken into account in developing curriculum frameworks from kindergarten to Year 10 in the key learning areas of Studies of Society and Environment, Science, Technology and Health.

There has been significant community involvement in the development of many of the National Strategy's actions in various jurisdictions, for example Landcare movements which have continued to grow in the past year. The Landcare movement is a significant achievement which improves community and NGO involvement in agriculture and resource management consistent with the National Strategy.

Actions related to dialogue with community representatives at peak national level and other supplementary consultations are still in the planning phase. Communication with local government will also need to be improved if a more accurate picture is to be obtained of the achievements of the National Strategy objectives.

Many of the tools required to manage the change towards ESD are as yet not available. There are no recognised indicators of sustainability which integrate economic, social and environmental performance at the national, state or local level. The lack of such indicators means there is no way of measuring, on a macro scale, if we are progressing towards sustainability or not. There is also a need at the program and project level to develop and apply methods for the assessment of sustainability. Work has recently been commenced on a project to review sustainability indicators, with a view to developing means of indicating overall progress towards ESD. The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management (SCARM) is currently trialing selected indicators of sustainable agriculture in Australia and New Zealand.

Much of the emphasis in the actions in the National Strategy is on the use of economic instruments to achieve environmental objectives, rather than regulation. There is still a lack of practical techniques and experience with economic instruments for this purpose. Economic instruments for environmental purposes need to be developed quickly to keep pace with the process of deregulation, privatisation and other market mechanisms. Work has commenced on the development of economic instruments in a number of jurisdictions.

The absence of timelines makes it difficult to make an overall assessment of progress on the implementation of the National Strategy. Work has now commenced on most of the actions in the National Strategy, however there are some actions in the National Strategy where progress has been slower than hoped or where action has not yet commenced. Lack of financial resources has been a constraint on the ability of jurisdictions to initiate some of these actions.

The first year of implementation of the National Strategy for ESD has seen considerable progress towards the Strategy's objectives, and a bedding down of the Strategy into the policies and programs of jurisdictions. Work undertaken to date on the actions in the Strategy is described in the following section, and such work will continue over the next two years under the responsibilities of line agencies.