About State of the Environment (SoE) reporting

Purpose and objectives

The Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts is required, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, to table a report in Parliament every five years on the State of the Environment. See Legislative framework

The intent of this report is to capture and present, in as accurate and useful a format as practicable, key information on the state of the 'environment' in terms of: its current condition; the pressures on it and the drivers of those pressures; and management initiatives in place to address environmental concerns, and the impacts of those initiatives.

The 'environment' is defined broadly under the Act. SoE reporting includes assessments across a wide range of biophysical and ecological elements of the environment, as well as social and cultural aspects of environmental issues.

The SoE report provides a definitive account of the national State of the Environment. It captures critical information about environmental issues - issues that are nationally significant and of interest to current and future generations.

The fundamental objectives of State of the Environment reporting are to:

  • make relevant and useful information on the state of the Australian environment available to the Minister, the department and more broadly to support decisions about environmental policies and management at national and regional scales
  • give the public access to accurate, up-to-date information on the state of the Australian environment.

In the longer-term, this will lead to:

  • increased awareness, among decision-makers and the public, of the status and implications of the condition of the Australian environment and pressures on it, and
  • more informed environmental management decisions that lead to more sustainable use and effective conservation of environmental assets.

SoE reporting is used to:

  • report on major causal factors that are influencing Australia's environment and heritage
  • report on the effectiveness of responses designed
  • highlight the issues most relevant to the sustainability of Australia's environment and heritage
  • contribute to public understanding of the state of Australia's environment and heritage
  • identify relevant gaps in information, and
  • further develop and improve the SoE reporting process

The report and underlying supplemetary materials are therefore made freely available to policymakers and others with a need for relevant, credible and meaningful environmental information.

Legislative framework

Commonwealth legislation

Since 1999, Australian Government legislation mandates the preparation and tabling of a national state of the environment report in Parliament through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Section 516B):

  1. The Minister must cause a report on the environment in the Australian jurisdiction to be prepared in accordance with the regulations (if any) every 5 years. The first report must be prepared by 31 December 2001.
  2. The report must deal with the matters prescribed by the regulations.
  3. The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be laid before each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the day on which he or she receives the report.

Australia's international reporting obligations

Australia's membership of international organisations also brings with it reporting obligations for various aspects of the condition of the Australian environment. Australia is a member of key international organisations and signatory to many international agreements.

History of SoE

The National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (Objective 14.2) of December 1992 called for national SoE reporting. That led in part to the production of the first independent SoE report in 1996.

Each of the five-yearly State of the Australian Environment (SoE) reports released to date (1996, 2001 and 2006) have been well received by the public and appear to have been effective in fostering environmental policy debates.

Past reports:

The SoE reporting process

The State of the Environment reporting process is driven by legislative requirements as set out in section 516B of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The Act does not specify any regulations for content or reporting processes. Currently the scope, content and governance for SoE reporting are determined by the department, while the final report is prepared by an independent committee.

The SoE reporting process occurs in five-year cycles, culminating in the delivery of a final report to the Minister for tabling in Parliament by 31 December of the respective reporting year (1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 and so forth).

 

Five year cycle for SoE reporting process

Governance and delivery roles

The SoE reporting process is managed through a range of governance and delivery roles. Strategies and governance arrangements are determined by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. The Minister for the Environment has appointed an independent committee to oversee the production of the report. The committees have been supported by a secretariat in the department. Major decisions about approaches to managing the reporting process are made by a panel of departmental senior executives.

Departmental SoE executive panel

A departmental executive panel determines the overarching process for conducting SoE reporting and endorses the following decisions and documents:

  • SoE project governance roles and reporting arrangements
  • the final set of issues and indicators and key environmental statistics
  • stakeholder, communication and data acquisition strategies
  • the process for independent review, and
  • the selection process for the SoE chair and committee, and resulting nomination of candidates.

Independent SoE committee

The SoE committee oversees the preparation of the SoE report and associated products through the following activities:

  • assisting in determining key topic areas for reporting and the report structure
  • producing the report, including a summary of main findings
  • providing advice and updates as requested by the Minister, and to the department
  • assisting with the promotion and disseminating of the report, and
  • advocating accurate, robust and meaningful environmental reporting and the identification of policy issues.

The 2011 SoE Committee

In October 2009 the Minister for the Environment decided that the 2011 report would be produced independently by a committee of experts, in a manner similar to the 1996, 2001 and 2006 reports.

More information on the 2011 SoE Committee.

Past committees:

Departmental project team

The department's National Environmental Reporting section provided support services to the SoE executive panel and the SoE 2011 committee. Functions included:

  • project management
  • communications
  • committee support services
  • management of consultation processes to determine core environmental issues and indicators
  • data/information acquisition and analysis, and
  • management of independent drafting and review processes.

Managing data and information

The development of the SoE report involves a range of data, information and conceptual tasks, including:

  • defining the key environmental issues to be addressed, which are:
    • descriptive of problems or challenges related to the environment
    • significant at a national scale, and
    • important for current and/or future generations.
  • developing relevant indicators, which describe:
    • driving forces and pressures giving rise to an issue
    • environmental conditions or states associated with an issue
    • impacts of the issue on natural and human systems, and
    • responses by human society to the issue.
  • identifying and acquiring appropriate data, information and research to underpin the indicators, seeking a balance between relevance, practicality and credibility; and
  • developing supplementary materials on thematic, integrative and emerging issues and developing and managing an independent review of the report.

SoE data management

Managing data information process