State of the Environment Report 2008

The State of the Environment Report (2008) for South Australia states "our environment is under significant stress and requires urgent attention from government, business and the community." The report is based on research and scientific evidence, and identifies key trends for seven environmental themes - atmosphere, inland waters, coasts and the sea, land, biodiversity, human settlements, heritage. Calls for urgent action are made for each of them. 

 The Executive Summary provides an overview of the Report.

A critical feature is explained in the Executive Summary as follows :

"One of the key elements of SoE reporting is the provision of independent recommendations to government on priorities for future action. This year’s report provides more than 30 recommendations calling for action. 

Under section 112 of the Environment Protection Act 1993, the Government is required to provide a formal response to the recommendations within a reasonable time of receiving the report. It also provides an opportunity for government to provide information on how it intends to deal with the identified issues."

So, how did the government respond? To gain a full understanding read the government's response.

The SOE report is extensive in scope, however it, and the government's response, do not tackle some of the very real issues confronting the South Australian environment, ecosystems, agricultural land, and communities. The approach to "economic growth", sustainable support for rural communities, and the direction that our political leaders are taking the state, are all integral to decisions affecting the condition of the environment and they are not without their problems and issues. These matters have not been articulated. The call to action in past decades has gone unheeded. The very same issues apply across all of Australia.

An observation is that the SOE Report has been prepared by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), and the question should be whether it is the appropriate organisation to be conducting what should be highly critical assessments of the total environment. Perhaps the extensive list of "peer reviewers" allays some of the potential criticisms, but it just seems a little odd that a government organisation responsible for environment protection is charged with the role to examine the condition of natural resources and ecosystems.

We are living in an age where there has been enormous environmental harm, biodiversity loss, ongoing threats to the existing agricultural system, complacency about the severity of these threats, and lack of action to repair past damage. 

An area of continual neglect is the condition of inland river systems other than the Murray River. There has been ample said of the Murray, but scarcely anything about other important river systems in this state. Consider the Broughton, Wakefield, and Light Rivers - all in the Mid North. Here is what the SOE Report (pg 10) says ...

"As may be expected as a result of the drought, inland freshwater riverine ecosystem health has generally declined throughout South Australia. Among the regularly monitored sites, 58% have shown a decline in river health assessments during 2005–06 compared with earlier results. If rainfall patterns return to past average levels in the near future, aquatic ecosystems are likely to recover. If however the current drought continues and rainfall remains below average for much longer, then long-term changes to the structure and functioning of these ecosystems are likely."

If there has been a 58% decline in inland rivers health generally (compared with earlier results) then these rivers, and the environment in general, are in deep trouble. Why? Consider this. In 1999-2000 the EPA conducted what was called "Mid North Rivers Management Plan" project. The report described in detail the condition of these rivers, and each was categorised as "degraded" or "severely degraded". 

Therefore, are we to read into this that there has been a further 58% decline from the "degraded state" that these rivers were found to be in back in 1999-2000? There has been no work of significance to rehabilitate these river systems since that time, and none under the Natural Resource Management Board structure. 
This is a failing of the SoE report, as much as it is a failing of the "system" to implement the work described in the Plan.

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