About this Report

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) legislates a review of the state of the Australian environment every 5 years. Australia state of the environment 2021 (SoE 2021) assesses the changing condition of our natural environment across 12 themes: air quality, Antarctica, biodiversity, climate, coasts, extreme events, heritage, Indigenous, inland water, land, marine and urban.  

The SoE is designed to:  

  • help shape strategy, policy and action  
  • influence behaviours of individuals, communities and businesses  
  • assist in assessing our actions as stewards of the Australian environment. 

The 2021 report combines scientific, traditional and local knowledge to provide a rigorous, peer‑reviewed assessment of every aspect of the environment. 

Independent nature of the state of the environment report

A committee of independent scientists and environmental experts authored the thematic chapters and contributed to the Overview report, led by co-chief authors Dr Ian Cresswell, Dr Terri Janke and Professor Emma Johnston.  

The authors were supported in their work by a taskforce within the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and a project board of departmental senior executives. Input to the report was provided by many partners and contributors, including Commonwealth and state and territory data, case studies, and many other contributions by partners recognised in the Acknowledgements sections of the chapters. The department’s Indigenous Advisory Committee was also consulted on drafts of all the chapters. 

What is different in this report?

In recognition of our ongoing joint stewardship of the environment, and in line with the objective of the EPBC Act, ‘to promote a collaborative approach to the protection and management of the environment involving governments, the community, land holders and Indigenous peoples’, we have created partnerships to deliver the report: 

  • Indigenous inclusion has been greatly enhanced in recognition of the role of Indigenous people and their knowledge in the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of Australia’s environment and biodiversity.   The report includes an Indigenous chapter and Indigenous co-authors for nearly all chapters.  We have also engaged with various Indigenous communities and leaders across the country in the development of the report.  
  • Using the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) as a frame, this report examines human links with the environment in terms of our wellbeing.  This approach also comes from our Indigenous authors’ influence in drawing out strong connections between people and Country. The SDGs have been embraced by industries and state and territory governments, so provides common ground for assessment.  
  • To ensure the report is fit for purpose, we sought input from both government and nongovernment users of the report throughout its development.  This was done through government policy networks and the establishment of the SoE user reference group, including representatives of peak bodies, not-for-profits, philanthropic investors and green finance. 


The report comprises an Overview and 12 thematic chapters: air quality, Antarctica, biodiversity, climate, coasts, extreme events, heritage, Indigenous, inland water, land, marine and urban. Each report uses a common structure: 

  • Outlook and impacts, which looks at the future of our environment and how this will affect our wellbeing 
  • Environment, which explores the state of various aspects of our environment 
  • Pressures, which looks at the impacts of pressures relevant to each chapter 
  • Management, which assesses the effectiveness of policy, legislation and action. 

This builds on the internationally accepted approach for reporting on the environment – the drivers, pressures, state, impact, response (DPSIR) framework.  

Links between drivers, pressures, the environment, human wellbeing, outlook and management



The authors of the report assess various aspects of the environment and rate their status, the impact of pressures, and the effectiveness of management. In 2021, they have also assessed how the condition of our environment is affecting our wellbeing. 

Before commencement of the 2021 assessment process, assessment standards were prepared and agreed with authors, outlining the approach and meaning of each grade. Integration of Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge systems was aided by the preparation of Indigenous collaboration guidelines based on the Indigenous co-authorship strategy developed for the report. Assessments were completed by expert panels of Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors, and in many cases external (non-author) experts. Specifics are provided in the ‘Approach’ section of each chapter. 

Assessments are based on the current science and literature, available data and expert opinion. The authors have indicated the strength of the evidence for assessments with a ‘level of confidence’. In many cases, experts contributed directly to the assessments in the thematic chapters. Expert workshops were also held to gather evidence and information, discuss issues and gauge opinion. The authors have indicated the strength of the evidence and consensus for their conclusions within each set of assessments. Content review, fact checking and independent peer review were used to validate and strengthen the content. All draft reports were reviewed by key stakeholders from the Australian Government, state and territory governments, the scientific research community and industry before undergoing independent peer review by subject matter experts. 

We have added new assessments in this report for the human wellbeing impacts of environmental state and trends, in keeping with the ‘Impact’ in the Driver–Pressure–State–Impact–Response (DPSIR) model (European Commission 1999). This new category of assessment reflects the important connection between environmental and human health, and the inseparability of people from Country in Indigenous world views. Recent trends in environmental reporting focus on this relationship, including nature’s contribution to people (Díaz et al. 2018), evolution of the DPSIR model into DPSIR and DAPSI(W)R(M) (Scharin et al. 2016), and the combination of environmental and social dimensions in the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

SoE 2021 also introduces summary assessments in the Overview chapter. These assessments summarise the theme-level assessments across the 12 detailed chapters, based on the range and most frequently reported grade (mode). Assessments were compiled and refined by an expert panel that included chief authors, to ensure appropriate weightings across chapter contexts and realms. Summary assessment text consolidates the narrative across contexts and realms. 

Finally, SoE 2021 introduces mapping of assessments to SDG targets, in line with recent state SoE reports (Queensland and Victoria). Each assessment indicates the SDG targets that it may relate to. We use this terminology because the majority of SDGs focus on the latter stages of DPSIR (Impact and Response), so pressure, state and trend assessments, and many of our more specific wellbeing and management assessments can only partly inform these higher-level goals. These mappings have been developed based on input from chapter authors and expert panel evaluation. 

Ratings of the current state and future trend are shown on a simple sliding scale. A brief summary is provided, and further information is available in the chapter content. The work is linked to an international standard, listing the SDG targets relevant to the assessment. 

Many of the aspects of the environment assessed in the 2021 report were assessed in previous reports, allowing us to track change over time. SoE 2021 contains data and information up to 30 June 2021, except where otherwise noted. There will always be new developments between this date and the publication of the report, but these cannot always be included. 

Some authors have drawn on additional materials, such as expert opinion or input from local and regional stakeholders. Any relevant additional materials used to support thematic content are available as supplementary material (see Supplementary material and downloads). 

State and territory reporting

Most of Australia’s states and territories also prepare regular state of the environment reports about their jurisdiction, and this information has been used in the national report where possible. We are working with the states and territories to improve our linking of outcome-based indicators to make it easier to see what is going on across the nation and at regional levels. 

Visit state and territory government websites to find out about their reporting processes and latest reports: