Management approaches

Several broad approaches are used in Australian environmental management; some are well established, and some are still in their infancy. Indigenous management and stewardship are increasing.

Assessment Management approaches
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.

Several environmental management approaches are in place or under development in Australia, including integrated management, Indigenous management and co-management. Progress on these approaches varies, and is made more effective by engagement with local and Indigenous communities and stewardship groups.
Assessments of management effectiveness range from partially effective to effective
Assessments of trend range from deteriorating to improving
Related to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal targets 2.3, 6.1, 6.4, 6.5, 6.b, 7.2, 11.3, 11.4, 11.6, 11.a, 11.b, 12.2, 12.4, 12.8, 13.1, 13.2, 14.1, 14.2, 14.4, 14.5, 14.6, 15.1, 15.5, 15.6

Integrated management

Integration in management can be across multiple dimensions, including spatial, hydrological, sectoral, jurisdictional, community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous values. The Australian Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (Zischka et al. 2013) calls for all sectors ‘to break down jurisdictional silos and boundaries and create new models and partnerships for innovative conservation management and financing’ as one of the priorities for conservation.

Key to achieving an effective, national, integrated management framework are as follows:

  • Recognition of the different capacities of the different levels of government for management, and development of effective mechanisms to achieve objectives. Broadening and strengthening the role of national councils and committees is vital, as is reviewing the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment and other major national agreements.
  • Greater standardisation or uniformity of approaches to management. Areas that would benefit from standardisation include national environmental standards, environmental impact assessments, risk management (in particular, in response to climate change), and data capture and management (see Samuel 2020).
  • Providing for all key stakeholder groups to be engaged in an active and balanced way that is respectful and promotes environmental protection (see also Stewardship).
  • Greater inclusion of Indigenous people, including in decision-making roles, to ensure that Indigenous rights are respected.

One of the most pressing issues for integrated management is climate change (see Climate change mitigation and adaptation). As a pressure affecting all landscapes and seascapes, climate change should be considered and included in all management planning of sufficient scale, as well as adoption of new adaptive management measures. The management of carbon requires greater integration with management of all other natural capital assets. Restoration of vegetation, soil, biodiversity and carbon is an integrated process, which cannot be achieved by considering each of these in isolation. Thus schemes that encourage co-benefits across different types of natural capital are more likely to succeed at landscape scales.

Over the past 2 decades, there has been a slow shift towards more integrated conservation management, from species-centric conservation to greater landscape- and seascape-scale conservation planning that aims to support both social and ecological outcomes. For example, approximately 7.8 million hectares of agricultural land has been set aside for protection or conservation purposes (ABS 2021). The fundamental tenet of this type of conservation is that biodiversity can persist in landscapes and seascapes if the different uses are carefully managed, and if connectivity supports dispersal and other movement by a range of species (Godfree et al. 2017). The incorporation of conservation practices such as ecological restoration, revegetation and agroforestry is gradually transforming Australian agricultural practice, although actions are still fragmented, and many technical, socio-economic and policy challenges limit biodiversity gains in agricultural systems (Campbell et al. 2017).

Integrated land management includes restoration initiatives to mitigate pressures or protect species, including through active planting (revegetation) or by removing pressures so that ecosystems can recover. Within Landcare projects, the most common management interventions are weed control, feral animal control and habitat improvement or regeneration (Capon et al. 2020). Integration of different management actions can involve a large number and diversity of stakeholders, with conservation activities often delivered by locally based groups.

The need for better integration of, and effective adaptation to, climate change in coastal management is widely recognised, but implementation requires a much greater level of collaboration between Australian, state and territory, and local governments. Coastal management in Australia lacks national coordination and integration, largely because of complex governance structures and blocking mechanisms (Harvey 2016). Previous attempts to implement a national approach to integrated coastal ‘zone’ management in Australia have failed (Clarke & Harvey 2013), but there has been some success in developing a national response to assess coastal management risks associated with climate change. One of the best examples of integrated management in Australia is the ongoing effort to preserve the Great Barrier Reef (see Climate change adaptation).

Inland water management in Australia also suffers from lack of integrated management. Flow impacts (e.g. water extraction, changes in catchment hydrology) and nonflow impacts (e.g. grazing, introduced species, loss of instream habitat) are usually subject to different management accountabilities and planning arrangements. The Productivity Commission has identified the need for institutional oversight responsibility for wetland and waterway management, including collaborative planning processes inclusive of Traditional Owners; clear environmental objectives, targets and priorities; oversight of natural resource management actions, and facilitation of on-ground delivery of environmental water (Productivity Commission 2021a) (Figure 25). An example of a more integrated approach is found in Victoria, where Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) are responsible for the integrated management of land, water and biodiversity; regional priorities for environmental water management; and facilitation of the delivery of environmental water. Nine (of 10) CMAs, and Melbourne Water for the 10th region, are designated waterway managers with specific responsibilities to develop and deliver regional waterway strategies and associated action plans.

An area of integration that has achieved good progress in recent years is recognition of the connections between groundwater and surface water systems. States and territories have made significant progress in recognising and managing physically connected systems through either integrated or linked planning processes (Productivity Commission 2021a).

In urban areas, integrated water cycle management (IWCM), which integrates water supply, wastewater management and stormwater management, offers opportunities to improve the resilience of water systems by increasing the diversity of water supply – for example, keeping stormwater in the landscape to deliver amenity and environmental benefits. However, shifting to an IWCM approach is complex and can incur substantial costs, which may exceed benefits. Integrated planning that incorporates water supply, wastewater disposal and stormwater management is a first step, noting that stormwater is subject to separate institutional arrangements in many cities. Integrated management also calls for a clear interface and consistent timeframes between land and water planning (Productivity Commission 2020a).

Figure 25 Integration of environmental and complementary waterway management at the local level, to achieve agreed outcomes

National framework for environmental standards

In April 2012, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to reform the administration of national environmental regulation to reduce duplication and double handling, while maintaining high environmental standards. However, there has been great difficulty in adopting a meaningful system. The 2020 independent review of the EPBC Act (Samuel 2020) recommended a series of reforms, including a set of enforceable national environmental standards. These standards would establish the requirements for the delivery of environmental outcomes, and therefore define the steps for decision-making. The review proposed that the suite of national environmental standards should include requirements relating to:

  • ecologically sustainable development
  • matters of national environmental significance
  • transparent processes and robust decisions, including
    • judicial review
    • community consultation
  • adequate assessment of impact, including climate impacts on matters of national environmental significance
  • emissions profile disclosure
  • Indigenous engagement and involvement in environmental decision-making
  • monitoring, compliance and enforcement
  • data and information
  • environmental monitoring and evaluation of outcomes
  • restoration and recovery
  • wildlife permits and trade.

In 2021, the Australian Government introduced legislation to establish legally enforceable national environmental standards, and to create an independent Environment Assurance Commissioner.

Indigenous management

Indigenous people have an obligation to care for Country. This has been the way that the land and seas of Australia have been managed and natural resources have been sustainably used for many tens of thousands of years; ‘If you take care of Country, it will take care of you’. Since the beginning of colonisation, caring for Country practices have been interrupted and ignored and there has been a marked lack of opportunity in achieving Indigenous self-determination. Australian Indigenous people hold detailed knowledge on past and current environments and trends, and this knowledge is increasingly informing ecological understanding and conservation management. Indigenous knowledge and partnership can help our nation to manage our greatest environmental pressures, including climate change.

The role of Indigenous-led organisations and rangers is a key part of Indigenous people’s ability to care for Country. Indigenous land and sea management (ILSM) is one of the fastest-growing sectors for Indigenous employment in Australia. ILSM involves objectives and activities such as management of fire, water, weeds and feral animals; monitoring and protection of threatened species; revegetation; harvesting of bush foods; pastoralism; and artistic work (Schultz et al. 2019). ILSM activities also support the wellbeing of Indigenous people (Larson et al. 2020), including high life satisfaction, high family wellbeing and general good health (Jones et al. 2018). Popular indicators used by Indigenous people to monitor the effectiveness of ILSM activities involve regular visits to Country for harvesting, resource management, and cultural obligations such as intergenerational knowledge transfer and ceremony (Austin et al. 2018).

Indigenous knowledge and engagement

In caring for Country, Indigenous Australians draw on laws, knowledge and customs inherited from ancestors to look after the lands and seas of which they are Traditional Custodians. The protection of biodiversity is highly dependent on Indigenous people’s knowledge, practices and cultural connections to land (Renwick et al. 2017). There is an urgent need to listen to Indigenous communities and to empower them to lead solutions that incorporate Indigenous knowledge and practices in environmental management, in line with the principles of caring for Country.

Indigenous people express a need for self-determination through greater involvement in all stages of development of caring for Country: policy, planning, performance delivery, and effectiveness and efficiency review. This involves including Indigenous people within the management system as valued partners, recognising traditional knowledge in environmental management, ensuring genuine engagement by government, ensuring Indigenous autonomy to care for Country, using localised community-led approaches in line with community needs, and providing adequate resourcing.

Co-design in Indigenous natural resource management supports the integration of Indigenous knowledge and western science. In recent years, Indigenous knowledge and values have been increasingly recognised in environmental management. For example, local report cards on coastal species have been created by some Traditional Owner groups (TSRA 2016, Nyamba Buru Yawuru 2021).

Other initiatives are bringing Indigenous knowledge systems into environmental education curriculums and delivery. A review of the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) found that Indigenous engagement in environmental and climate science research has increased access to Indigenous knowledge and cultural practice. These contributions have enhanced scientific knowledge in threatened species, land and water management, fire management and climate change.

Future effective stewardship in Australia will depend on re-establishment of Indigenous connection to Country, and learning from, respecting and sharing Indigenous knowledge and practices. But much more work is required to align key legislation and policies with the aspirations of Traditional Owners for managing their land and sea Country. The continuing legacy of colonial management and disenfranchisement has broken down this connection.

To empower more Indigenous people in environmental management, ensuring cultural safety will be an important consideration. Cultural safety means providing an environment that is safe for people: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience; learning, living and working together with dignity; and truly listening (Williams 2008). In 2019, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning adopted an Indigenous-led Aboriginal Cultural Safety Framework (DELWP 2020).

The revitalisation of Indigenous fire management practices in Australia has been highlighted as an effective way to manage and improve the health of the landscape and improve Indigenous wellbeing outcomes. As well as reducing bushfire risk, promoting regeneration and supporting habitat, cultural burning can reduce smoke pollution and greenhouse gas emissions (Russell-Smith et al. 2013). Indigenous cultural burning and increased public awareness are evident in 70 recent case studies in south-eastern Australia documented in the media and academic literature (McKemey et al. 2020). The experience of the northern Australian savanna burning in the early dry season to reduce late dry-season hot fires has led to the extension of traditional fire practice into management regimes across Australia. Indigenous rangers are now involved in planned burns in the Australian Capital Territory, and traditional fire practices are being applied in some parts of New South Wales and central Victoria. However, with significant funding gaps, tenure impediments and policy barriers, Indigenous cultural burning remains underused – it is currently applied over less than 1% of the land area of Australia’s south-eastern states and territory (McKemey et al. 2020).

Indigenous tenure

The amount of land and sea Country owned and managed by Indigenous people and subject to native title rights is growing, as are the joint and sole management arrangements (Figure 26). The Indigenous estate – the land over which Indigenous people and communities have ownership, management, co-management or rights of use – occurs on all tenures and comprised 438 million hectares (57% of Australia) in 2016 (Jacobsen et al. 2020).

Figure 26 Changes to the Indigenous estate over time

The complex legal system regarding Indigenous rights delivers different outcomes depending on the state or territory, and the nature of the right. For example, the Queensland Government, with the support of Traditional Owners, has converted more than 22 existing national parks to joint management (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land), with Aboriginal freehold as the underlying tenure.

Expanding and intensifying development, and changes to seasons, species and extreme events associated with climate change, are increasingly impacting Indigenous people’s ability to connect to and enjoy land and sea Country. Indigenous people hold obligations to care for parts of Country that are not formally recognised within the Indigenous estate, and increasing urban and peri-urban development limits practices of caring for Country. Lands determined to have non-exclusive native title, and lands subject to Indigenous Land Use Agreements, may restrict native titleholders’ ability to control access and determine the management of that land.

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) provide a framework for Traditional Owners to govern and manage their customary estate to the benefit of Indigenous people, the environment and the wider Australian community. In 2020, there were 78 IPAs, which make up 44% of the National Reserve System. ‘Legal’ mechanisms that may support Traditional Owner management of IPAs include legal ownership of lands, Indigenous customary resource use rights enshrined in legislation, protection of sacred sites and other cultural sites and areas through cultural heritage legislation, and protection of significant species and habitats through biodiversity conservation and natural resource management legislation (Gould et al. 2021). Other tools and mechanisms for Traditional Owner management of IPAs include management planning processes based on Indigenous cultural values and governance, Indigenous ranger groups (see Indigenous wellbeing and economy) and partnerships. But although Indigenous solely and jointly managed protected areas have rapidly grown over 2010–20, several issues remain, including short-term contracts, financial insecurity and tenure insecurity, which constrain the aspirations of Traditional Owners to care for their land over the long term.

Indigenous communities have been developing their own strategies and plans to manage sea Country in IPAs. In recent years, new resourcing models quarantined a significant proportion of the funds within a coastal program for Indigenous-led initiatives and projects. For the Great Barrier Reef, the Reef Trust Partnership is investing $51.8 million in Traditional Owner reef protection, which equates to 10% of the value of the funds allocated. Also in the Great Barrier Reef, Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreements provide Indigenous co-management over additional areas of sea Country (GBRMPA 2021a).

Challenges in Indigenous rights extend to water. Indigenous people’s relationships to water involve knowledge, story, law, cultural practices and responsibilities. As a result of colonial mismanagement, industrialisation, water theft and failure to recognise Indigenous rights to water, the health and quality of waterways in Australia has deteriorated dramatically, as seen with the Barka or Darling River in Barkandji Country. Australian water management has typically resulted from top-down government decision-making because of pressures on water resources. Water resource planning processes have frequently struggled to engage Indigenous people in meaningful conversation or deliberation about future water use and planning options, and rather engaged in ineffective ‘consultations’ and ‘service delivery’ processes (Hemming et al. 2017). Environmental management plans, while containing provisions to engage and to consult with Indigenous communities, have failed to empower Indigenous aspirations; this has resulted in limited access and use of water, no economic self-determination and limited ability to care for Country (Moggridge & Thompson 2021).

Indigenous wellbeing and economy

There is strong evidence that participation in caring for Country activities by Indigenous people in Australia is associated with improved health and wellbeing outcomes, as well as greater participation in cultural activities and language knowledge (Schultz et al. 2019, Larson et al. 2020). The Intergovernmental Science–Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that recognising the knowledge and values of Indigenous and local people, and including them in environmental governance, often enhances quality of life, along with the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of nature (IPBES 2019).

Indigenous ranger programs are a powerful way to manage land and sea Country to achieve large-scale conservation outcomes, especially in IPAs (Social Ventures Australia 2016). Ranger groups are employed by Indigenous organisations, and national, state and territory land management entities. The IPA program, which is funded until 2028, supports 129 ranger groups and provides employment for more than 1,900 Indigenous Australians in full-time, part-time and casual positions. However, Indigenous people consider that IPA and Working on Country programs are difficult to access, and a common view of Working on Country programs is that there is not enough funding available. This view is also often held by park rangers, who have enough resources for day-to-day management, but not enough to tackle the big issues (see Indigenous funding).

Indigenous people are increasingly aspiring to grow livelihood and wellbeing benefits from commercial fisheries. Following the 2017 changes to the Fisheries Management Act 1991, requiring the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to consider the interests of Indigenous fishers in Commonwealth fisheries management decisions, the Commonwealth fisheries resource sharing framework was released in 2020. This was accompanied by a call for an Indigenous Engagement Strategy for fishing interests. Despite investment from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Indigenous Reference Group in several research projects, progress has been slow. There are currently no examples of co-management in Australian commercial fisheries, and traditional knowledge and objectives are constrained by institutional (top-down) governance and policy obligations (Hunter & Fischer 2021).

Indigenous cultural and intellectual property and data

Just as the theft of Indigenous art has been a long-term concern for Indigenous people, the theft of knowledge and resources for medicines, bushfoods and other products is a cultural and economic burden for Indigenous people. A wide range of Indigenous enterprises involving bushfoods, medicinal and beauty products, and native plant nurseries are emerging from Indigenous knowledge. Such enterprises are largely based on wild harvest from traditionally managed estates, but also involve different models of cultivation, such as enrichment planting and horticulture (Gorman et al. 2020). Wild harvest often occurs in areas under Indigenous land tenure, where Indigenous communities and Indigenous ranger groups are actively involved in land management.

Australian laws on the protection of Indigenous knowledge and access to biological resources are fragmented. In response to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Australian legislation was introduced at a national level with the EPBC Act, and in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Queensland. The EPBC Act and Regulations provide that, where access is for commercial use or potentially for commercial use, the applicant must enter into an access and benefit-sharing agreement with the access provider. For noncommercial purposes, the applicant must obtain written permission and state that it does not intend to use the biological resources for commercial purposes. This can, in principle, assist Traditional Owners of land that is accessed to negotiate agreements for use of resources and associated knowledge. In practice, the law provides limited protection, and the provisions do not take into account Indigenous knowledge (as opposed to access to resources).

The use of Indigenous cultural and intellectual property (ICIP) protocols can help to protect Indigenous knowledge. Some universities have entered into research agreements, and access and benefit-sharing arrangements with Indigenous land and knowledge owners. In some cases, this has resulted in shared patents and mutual benefit sharing. Protocols can be used along with existing laws and contracts to further protect ICIP.

But generally, Indigenous people consider existing laws to be ineffective. Australia has not yet implemented the Nagoya Protocol, and the result is that there are different approaches and requirements depending on the location of the genetic resources and the nature of the relevant land tenure (Terri Janke and Company 2018). Ratification of the Nagoya Protocol could deliver a nationally consistent system for access and benefit sharing. The Queensland Biodiscovery Act 2004 was amended in 2020 to include provisions for the protection of Indigenous knowledge that were compliant with the Nagoya Protocol (see Indigenous cultural and intellectual property). Indigenous people continue to ask for national implementation of the Nagoya Protocol (see International obligations and treaties) – this includes benefit sharing; attribution; and free, prior and informed consent.

Intellectual property laws are also limited in the way they recognise ICIP rights. Claims of patents based on Indigenous knowledge by non-Indigenous companies upset cultural production and prevent benefit sharing. A growing number of Indigenous organisations are making use of intellectual property laws, and there are a few Indigenous community organisations that are co-owners of plant patents. However, most Indigenous people are not able to resource such partnerships. Indigenous people continue to call for legal recognition of their Indigenous knowledge systems.

Data management is another area that needs to recognise Indigenous data sovereignty – the right of Indigenous people to control the collection, access, analysis, interpretation, management, dissemination and re-use of Indigenous data (Kukutai & Taylor 2016, Snipp 2016). Adequate recognition would enable Indigenous people and governing bodies to determine how Indigenous people, as well as Indigenous lands, territories, resources, knowledges and geographical indicators, are represented and identified within data. Data infrastructures can be designed to support Indigenous-led initiatives, from cultural heritage and language collection, ranger work, research on and about Country, decision-making, and developing Country-based enterprises and industries, through to intergenerational transfer of knowledge, and the monitoring and evaluation of the effective delivery of services to Indigenous communities. 


Local environmental stewardship involves local people in protecting, caring for and sustainably using the environment (Bennett et al. 2018). Stewardship actions include sustainable use of resources; environmental education and advocacy; informal enforcement of policy protection; and restoration, preservation and monitoring – for example, through citizen science projects (Turnbull et al. 2020).

Many Australians have an active interest in maintaining the health and productivity of the landscapes in which they live (Bennett et al. 2018). Those who have a cultural connection have a particular interest; the ongoing degradation of the environment is reducing wellbeing due to burgeoning ‘ecological grief’ in those with emotional attachments to nature, especially Indigenous communities (Gordon et al. 2019, Cunsolo et al. 2020).

Local environmental stewardship can be enhanced in the broad population by experiencing nature; sharing these experiences through social networks; developing concern for sustainability and future generations; and developing a sense of local identity, respect and responsibility towards nature (Turnbull et al. 2020). These characteristics may be nurtured through outdoor recreational activities, restoration programs, environmental education, citizen science and institutional stewardship, such as threatened species management plans and protected areas (Turnbull et al. 2021a).

Landcare, a grassroots community-led approach to sustainable land management, began in Australia in 1986. The Landcare movement promotes environmental conservation and sustainable land management. It has more than 140,000 volunteers currently included in its networks, and active groups in urban, rural, coastal and marine environments. Landcare participation supports improvements in mental and physical wellbeing, belonging and community resilience, including reduced annual healthcare costs of $403 for each participant (KPMG 2021). Additional savings of $191 million per year were estimated to arise from improved productivity and resilience to natural disasters (KPMG 2021).

Land for Wildlife works with landholders to integrate habitat conservation with residential use and agricultural production, and stewardship agreements serve a similar purpose for privately owned land. The reintroduction of cultural burning and land management practices is also a growing movement, with private owners working with Indigenous people. Clean Up Australia Day is the nation’s largest community-based environmental event, reporting that more than 38.5 million hours of volunteer time has been donated since it commenced in 1989.

Since 2016, more focus has been placed on the need for integrated stewardship of our oceans by reconciling with Indigenous stewardship in managing sea Country (see also Integrated management). For example, ghost nets have been the focus of considerable attention, effort and engagement by Indigenous and community groups, and the Australian Government committed $14.8 million to the Ghost Nets Initiative in 2021 to address ghost nets and plastic litter in the waters and beaches of the Gulf of Carpentaria (Parks Australia 2021a). For example, the Anindilyakwa Land and Sea Rangers, run by the Land Council at Groote Eylandt, manage ghost net and plastic debris along the coastlines of their IPA.

There are also good examples of river catchment communities mobilising for environmental outcomes and sustainable futures. The Cooks River Alliance was established to restore, rehabilitate and renew river vitality through partnerships, advocacy and community action. Importantly, the alliance partners with Indigenous people and organisations in the catchment for projects involving Indigenous history and ecological knowledge. The alliance has coordinated 3 major events with the community; more than 300 school students have been introduced to water-sensitive urban design; almost 1,500 community members have been introduced to stormwater management challenges; and more than 10,000 bags of rubbish and weeds have been collected.

The scale of volunteer work in management of protected areas and heritage places is significant. Invasive species control and environmental rehabilitation in World Heritage properties and National Heritage places often rely on volunteers and grant funding. Private owners make a very large contribution to heritage conservation in Australia, by conserving and maintaining heritage through owning listed heritage places or entering into arrangements to protect natural heritage areas. However, heritage protection and management of natural heritage across Australia are struggling to meet basic requirements for heritage protection and management, even with volunteer support.

Infographic showing that we all have a role to play in looking after the environment, both as individuals and as members of businesses, agencies, cultures and community groups.

Natural capital accounting and environmental–economic accounting

‘Natural capital’ is the stock of renewable and nonrenewable natural resources available in the environment. Natural capital is fundamental to our lives, communities and economy – it encompasses all types of assets and resources that people and communities use to live and thrive. Australian farmers, fishers, foresters, miners and the community rely on the productivity of the environment, which depends on the state and trend of natural capital.

How we use and manage the land and oceans can affect natural capital and its condition, defined as its quality or health. Declines in the condition of natural capital affect the economy as a whole and the economic wellbeing of individuals. For example, intensive agricultural practices can directly impact soil health. Improving soil health can increase production and flows of other ecosystem services, which benefit farmers and society more broadly. Diversifying sustainable land uses across a whole region may make the landscape – and the economy and communities that rely on the land – more resilient to climate change. Likewise, diversifying sustainable uses of the ocean can increase resilience.

The System of National Accounts is the standard on how to measure the national economy and is used to provide economic information for decision‑makers. The UN System of Environmental–Economic Accounting extends the System of National Accounts to integrate environmental and economic information, and provide a more comprehensive view for decision-making.

Environmental–economic accounting offers an innovative approach to track environmental assets and potentially cumulative impacts on the environment. In 2018, Australia’s environment ministers agreed to a strategy and action plan for a common national approach to environmental–economic accounting (IEEASC 2018). The Samuel Review of the EPBC Act confirmed the importance of linking environmental–economic accounts to state of the environment reporting, and recommended accelerating the development of accounts (Samuel 2020). The Australian Government has further committed to transformative actions, including the following:

  • Release of the first experimental National Land Account, which provides statistics to measure changes in land attributes over time, from both an economic and an environmental perspective. These attributes focus on land cover, land use, land tenure and unimproved land value. The National Land Account will be incrementally enhanced over time through improved data and methods.
  • Release of 2 National Waste Accounts, which provide data on how waste and recycled materials are managed and re-used in Australia. Methods and accounts are incrementally being improved to better understand the flow and value of waste material nationally.
  • Development of ocean accounting, to achieve the sustainable management of the oceans, joining 14 heads of state who form the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel 2021). After the release of a case study for Geographe Marine Park, Western Australia, Australia has committed to the rollout of ocean accounts at a national scale (Prime Minister of Australia 2021), while also sharing expertise and lessons learned from ocean accounting activities within the Asia–Pacific region (Payne 2021).
  • A pilot of ecosystem accounting is considering ecosystem extent and condition, biodiversity, the flow of ecosystem services and the benefits or value (monetary and nonmonetary) these services provide. After the release of a case study for the Gunbower–Koondrook–Perricoota Forest Icon Site, the Australian Government is examining the feasibility and utility of establishing a set of national ecosystem accounts.

Currently, environmental–economic accounts value nature in terms of its contributions to direct human benefit through ecosystem services. However, this is not the only way to assess our environment. Many in society also value nature for broader reasons:

  • nature for nature’s sake – nonhuman (intrinsic) values (e.g. animal welfare and rights, ecological processes, species diversity)
  • nature for human quality of life – anthropogenic relational values (e.g. wellbeing, cultural identity, sense of place) (Pascual et al. 2017).

There is a growing demand for more holistic understanding of all impacts of development, taking into account the full range of natural capital that we rely on and affect, as well as impacts on social and human capital. This requires more nuanced perspectives of both conserving natural values and supporting technology transitions in the production of food, fibre, energy and minerals, while also supporting the wellbeing of society.

These plural values will also need to be considered to ensure that decisions support wellbeing.