About the State of the Environment 2015


NSW State of the Environment 2015 (SoE 2015), prepared by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), reports on the status of the main environmental issues facing NSW. The report has been prepared in accordance with the requirements of section 10 of the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991. It is the ninth SoE since 1993.

SoE 2015 aims to provide credible, scientifically based, statewide environmental information to assist those involved in environmental policy and decision-making and managing the state's natural resources.


Although SoE 2015 has been prepared by the EPA, the scope of state of the environment reporting is too broad to be covered by just one agency. SoE 2015 contains extensive input from a wide range of government agencies, other organisations and individual specialists, who provided data, information, analysis and interpretation, and reviewed the assembled content of the report. The EPA relies strongly on the support and contributions from these agencies, as well an inter-agency SoE Steering Committee.

The specialist input also includes reviews and advice from a panel of independent experts external to the NSW Government.

Section 10(3)(f) of the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991 states that the SoE Report is to include a statement on the performance of environmental education programs. This statement is to be prepared by the NSW Council on Environmental Education (s.27). However, the council has not been in existence since 2009 and therefore no such statement is available.

Structure and linkages

SoE 2015 is structured differently from previous SoE reports. To simplify and streamline the report each issue is reported as an independent 'Theme' with extensive cross-referencing highlighting the relationships between themes.

The report has been produced in two parts:

Environmental drivers

The first part of the report describes key drivers that influence our environment: population growth, economic trends, energy use, transport trends, greenhouse gas emissions, urban water use and waste and recycling.

The population of NSW is continually growing and trends in population growth, settlement patterns and residential densities are described in Theme 1: Population. Growth in population helps to drive economic growth and prosperity for the people of NSW. Responding to the environmental challenges presented by a growing NSW economy requires a better understanding of how the economy and the environment interact. New economic instruments and accounting systems are discussed in Theme 2: Economics and the environment.

The growth in population and the economy also leads to the consumption of energy, water and land resources and the generation of waste. The production and use of energy has been identified as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in NSW, with transport and electricity generation responsible for the majority of these emissions. Energy production and use is described in Theme 3: Energy consumption, while trends in the use of public and private transport are described in Theme 4: Transport. Overall levels and trends in greenhouse gas emissions are described in Theme 5: Greenhouse gas emissions.

Communities, industry, and agriculture require access to reliable sources of water. Drinking water quality and patterns of potable water use are described in Theme 6: Urban water. Trends in waste generation and recycling are described in Theme 7: Waste and recycling.

Environmental resources

The second part of the report describes the condition of important environmental resources such as: air quality, soils and land management, native species, vegetation, and reserves and conservation, and water resources, rivers and wetlands. It also reports on specific issues such as invasive species and contaminated sites.

Ensuring that air quality remains at a high level is essential for providing a clean living environment and maintaining the health of the NSW population. While air quality is generally good in NSW the levels of major pollutants and the issues that can arise in some situations are discussed in Theme 8: Air quality.

The contamination of land by pollutants is covered in Theme 9: Contaminated sites. Healthy soils provide the essential ecosystem services and the primary productivity supporting natural ecosystems and the economic prosperity of the state. The health of soils in NSW and changes in condition over time are described in Theme 10: Soil condition, while current land management practices and their effects on soil health are discussed in Theme 11: Sustainable land management.

Ensuring the long-term survival of the species and ecosystems of NSW means that they will persist for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations. Many native species are considered to be threatened in NSW and the current status and trends in threatened species are discussed in Theme 12: Threatened species. The main threats to the survival of species are habitat destruction through the clearing of native vegetation, discussed in Theme 13: Native vegetation, and competition and predation by invasive species. The preservation of ecosystems and habitats is described in Theme 14: Protected areas and conservation, while invasive species are discussed in Theme 15: Invasive species.

One of the greatest challenges facing NSW is continued access to reliable sources of water. Water use needs to be managed to provide an equitable balance between the numerous beneficial uses of water and maintaining the health of rivers and aquatic ecosystems. How water resources are allocated and an increase in the share of water for the environment is described for surface water in Theme 16: Water resources, and for groundwater in Theme 19: Groundwater. The ecological health of rivers and the effects of water availability and extraction are described in Theme 17: River health, and the relationship to wetland health in Theme 18: Wetlands.

Most rivers flow to the sea through estuaries and the final theme in this report covers the health and impacts on estuaries and the coastal and marine environments of NSW, in Theme 20: Coastal, estuarine and marine ecosystems.

Indicator summaries

SoE 2015 assesses the current status and trends since SoE 2012 for each of 65 environmental indicators, and the availability of the information used to make these assessments. The information availability rating signifies the level of information used to make the assessment.

Key to the indicator summaries

Indicator and status Environmental trend Information availability

Indicator status refers to the environmental condition of the indicator.

The environmental indicator trend describes the direction of significant change in environmental condition and is generally judged over the reporting period, between the previous report (SoE 2012) and the current report. The trend reported, using the descriptors below, may have an impact on the overall status of the indicator in the future. Information availability describes the statewide extent, condition and 'fitness for use' of the data used for assessing the status and trend for the indicator. It is represented by the symbols below.

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Green – Good: the data shows a positive or healthy environmental condition

Decreasing Impact – The trend in environmental condition for the indicator is getting better (environmental impacts are decreasing)
Stable – No significant change for indicator
Stabilising – The rate of environmental deterioration is slowing
Increasing Impact – The trend in environmental condition for the indicator is getting worse
Unknown – Not enough information is available to determine a trend for the indicator

✔ ✔ ✔  = Good

✔ ✔  = Reasonable

✔  = Limited

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Yellow – Moderate: the data shows that the environmental condition is neither good nor poor, or results may be mixed across the state

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Red – Poor: the data indicates poor environmental condition or condition under significant stress

unknown icon

Grey – Unknown: insufficient data to make an assessment
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