Environmental reporting and accounting in Australia
Environmental reporting and accounting in Australia: Progress, prospects and research priorities
Despite strong demand for information to support the sustainable use of Australia’s natural resources and conserve environmental values and despite considerable effort and investment, nation-wide environmental data collection and analysis remains a substantially unmet challenge. We review progress in producing national environmental reports and accounts, identify challenges and opportunities, and analyse the potential role of research in addressing these. Australia’s low and concentrated population density and the short history since European settlement contribute to the lack of environmental data. There are additional factors: highly diverse data requirements and standards, disagreement on information priorities, poorly measurable management objectives, lack of coordination, over-reliance on researchers and businesses for data collection, lack of business engagement, and short-term, project-based activities.
New opportunities have arisen to overcome some of these challenges: enhanced monitoring networks, standardisation, data management and modelling, greater commitment to share and integrate data, community monitoring, increasing acceptance of environmental and sustainability indicators, and progress in environmental accounting practices. Successes in generating climate, water and greenhouse gas information appear to be attributable to an unambiguous data requirement, considerable investment, and legislative instruments that enhance data sharing and create a clearly defined role for operational agencies. Based on the analysis presented, we suggest six priorities for research: (1) common definitions and standards for information that address management objectives, (2) ecological measures that are scalable from local to national level, (3) promotion of long-term data collection and reporting by researchers, (4) efficient satellite and sensor network technologies and data analysis methods, (5) environmental modelling approaches that can reconcile multiple data sources, and (6) experimental accounting to pursue consistent, credible and relevant information structures and to identify new data requirements. Opportunities exist to make progress in each of these areas and help secure a more sustainable future.