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Appendix A: Ecologically sustainable development and environmental performance

Section 516A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) requires entities to report on:

  • how our activities accord with the principles of ecologically sustainable development
  • how our outcomes and corporate plan purposes contribute to ecologically sustainable development
  • the environmental impacts of our operations during the year and measures taken to minimise these impacts.

Ecologically sustainable development principles

The principles of ESD outlined in section 3A of the EPBC Act are that:

  • decision-making processes should effectively integrate both long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equity considerations
  • if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation
  • the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations
  • the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity should be a fundamental consideration in decision-making
  • improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms should be promoted.

Our contribution to ecologically sustainable development

Our outcomes

Our outcomes embody the ESD principles:

Outcome 1: Conserve, protect and sustainably manage Australia's biodiversity, ecosystems, environment and heritage through research, information management, supporting natural resource management, establishing and managing Commonwealth protected areas, and reducing and regulating the use of pollutants and hazardous substances, and coordination of climate change adaptation strategy and climate change science activities.

Outcome 2: Advance Australia's strategic, scientific, environmental and economic interests in the Antarctic region by protecting, administering and researching the region.

Outcome 3: More sustainable, productive, internationally competitive and profitable Australian agricultural, food and fibre industries through policies and initiatives that promote better resource management practices, innovation, self-reliance and improved access to international markets.

Outcome 4: Safeguard Australia's animal and plant health status to maintain overseas markets and protect the economy and environment from the impact of exotic pests and diseases, through risk assessment, inspection and certification, and the implementation of emergency response arrangements for Australian agricultural, food and fibre industries.

Outcome 5: Improve the health of rivers and freshwater ecosystems and water-use efficiency through implementing water reforms, and ensuring enhanced sustainability, efficiency and productivity in the management and use of water resources.

We play a leading role or contribute to national and international policies with significant ESD objectives. We deliver programs to fund research, training and projects aimed at mitigating climate change and improving sustainable resource management. Our role in biosecurity is critical to maintaining biodiversity in Australia and overseas. We also deliver funding to community organisations and to the portfolio research and development corporations whose work includes activities supporting ESD.

Our work supports the goal of development that meets Australia's current needs while conserving our ecosystems for the benefit of future generations.

Our key activities in 2019–20 are outlined in the Annual performance statements.

2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) is a global plan of action for international cooperation to tackle current and future global challenges. The 2030 Agenda is underpinned by 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across a broad range of subjects. The SDGs integrate the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

We are actively engaged in whole-of-government efforts to integrate the SDGs into our domestic and international strategies, policies and programs. We give effect to the 2030 Agenda and help achieve the SDGs through our regulatory, policy and program functions across the agriculture, water and environment portfolio. Many of our activities deliver outcomes across the spectrum of SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. We are the lead Australian Government agency for 5 SDGs and a supporting agency for 3 others.

The SDGs we lead on are:

  • SDG2 – Zero hunger
  • SDG6 – Clean water and sanitation
  • SDG12 – Responsible consumption and production
  • SDG14 – Life below water
  • SDG15 – Life on land.
SDG2 – Zero hunger

In line with SDG2 we are working to maintain Australia's status as one of the most food-secure countries in the world. As approximately 70% of Australian agricultural produce is exported, Australia also makes an important contribution to supporting the food security of our trading partners. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are contributing to whole-of-government efforts to maintain agricultural service and supply lines, extend work visas for seasonal workers and provide air freight support to ensure Australian produce continues to access markets.

Within our region we also help build capacity by sharing technical and policy expertise, and provide biosecurity and surveillance training for animal and plant diseases and pests. This helps our near neighbours to help combat biosecurity threats such as African swine fever and fall armyworm, which have the potential to undermine local food security outcomes and global progress towards SDG2.

SDG6 – Clean water and sanitation

Australia's ongoing water reform contributes to the achievement of SDG6. This includes our efforts to increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and implement an integrated approach to water resources management.

Recent analysis by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Agriculture and Water Policy Changes supports this effort. The analysis shows that Australia ranks among the highest-performing G20 and OECD countries in the alignment of water and agriculture policies.

We continue to work with United Nations (UN) Water and the UN Environment Programme to report on SDG6 indicators under the UN 2020 Data Drive.

SDG12 – Responsible consumption and production

We are working to improve the use of resources consistent with SDG12. For instance, the National Waste Policy Action Plan sets out targets and actions to reduce waste generation and improve resource recovery. A commitment of $190 million to a new Recycling Modernisation Fund will drive a transformation of Australia's waste and recycling capacity.

The first ever National Plastics Summit held in March 2020 showcased and identified new solutions to the plastic waste challenge, mobilising action across government's, industry and non-government organisations. We continue to lead on the government's National Food Waste Strategy, which provides a framework to support collective action towards halving Australia's food waste by 2030. We also continue to work collaboratively to establish a framework to better manage industrial chemicals, delivering $112 million in benefits over 10 years.

SDG14 – Life below water

Australia continues to demonstrate leadership in sustainable ocean management under SDG14. The department supports the Prime Minister's engagement in the 14-nation High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, which is developing a framework for how the world can transition to a sustainable ocean economy. Additionally, we administer the Pacific Ocean Litter Project, an Australian Aid project to help Pacific Island nations refuse, reduce and replace single use plastic.

The Australian Government is investing $100 million through the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program to develop adaptive technologies to help preserve and restore the Great Barrier Reef in the face of rising ocean temperatures and coral bleaching. Similarly, the Our Marine Parks Grants program supports industry-led initiatives to promote sustainable fishing in Australia's 2.8 million square kilometre network of marine parks.

In line with the ambitions of SDG14, we continue to support a rules-based international order that promotes sustainable fisheries management. Australia works with our Indo-Pacific neighbours to promote sustainable fishing practices, including by playing a leading role in developing harvest strategies for straddling and highly-migratory fish stocks.

Australia has also strengthened its monitoring, control and surveillance regimes and reduced apprehensions of foreign vessels fishing illegally in our waters to just 4 in 2019–20 (from 367 in 2005–06). We have provided capacity-building assistance to regional partners to help combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and we advocate in multiple regional fora for the implementation of UN commitments aimed at preserving marine ecosystems.

SDG15 – Life on land

On land, we are acting to secure a thriving natural environment in line with SDG15. We worked with all Australian governments to deliver Australia's Strategy for Nature, which sets out a national framework to better understand, care for and sustainably manage nature. The strategy coordinates national delivery of Australia's commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity, its Aichi Biodiversity Targets and other international agreements including the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the Convention on Migratory Species.

We are supporting efforts to protect Australia's water, soil, plants and animals and support their productive and sustainable use through the $450 million Regional Land Partnerships Program and the $100 million Environment Restoration Fund. The Agriculture Stewardship Package is also investing $34 million to support on-farm agricultural practices which improve biodiversity and agricultural productivity, and will complement government investments to date in natural resource management (including Phase 2 of the National Landcare Program).

We demonstrated the government's commitment to SDG15 and the delivery of sustainable forest management by reaching agreement with the Victorian Government in March 2020 to modernise and extend the 5 Victorian Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) until 30 June 2030. With the extension of the Victorian RFAs, the Australian Government has delivered on its commitment to extend all RFAs across Australia. These extensions deliver the right balance of economic, social and environmental outcomes, paving the way for the continued sustainable management of the state's public and private native forests and plantation estates.

Other Sustainable Development Goals

We are also a supporting agency for:

  • SDG11 – Sustainable cities and communities
  • SDG13 – Climate action
  • SDG17 – Partnerships for the goals.

In support of SDG11, we have:

  • introduced additional compliance measures for noxious emissions standards for new small petrol engines such as lawnmowers, including a 1 July 2020 domestic supply ban
  • consulted stakeholders to strengthen ambient air quality standards for ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide
  • commenced an evaluation of the potential for a national approach to manage emissions from non-road diesel engines such as construction machinery.

In addition, we continue to implement the National Environmental Science Program, which supports 6 environmental research hubs. The Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub conducts research on environmental quality in urban areas, and supports SDG11 by investigating how to make cities better for people and for biodiversity. The hub supports policy-makers to develop resilient and sustainable Australian cities though their research on urban systems and air quality.

The government has an extensive agenda on SDG13 and has made significant investment in climate resilience and adaptation, including for the agricultural sector. We continue to progress a coordinated national approach and work program with the states and territories in a number of priority areas. These include the delivery of information and tools for better decisions and risk management, and investment in research and innovation that supports adaptation and mitigation.

Australia continues to reduce hydrofluorocarbon emissions through its legislated import phase-down, as part of our commitment to the global phase-down under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

On SDG17, partnerships are key to our department's work and to delivering portfolio priorities. For example, we are using our Partnerships Framework to facilitate more multi-stakeholder partnering to maintain and enhance Australia's unique environment. We aim to bring together the unique strengths and resources of diverse partners to have more impact and achieve more sustainable outcomes than each partner could achieve when acting alone.

Incorporating the knowledge, experiences, perspectives and cultures of Indigenous peoples is integral to improving environmental outcomes. We have released Partnering with Indigenous organisations for a sustainable environment as a resource for non-Indigenous organisations that are looking to build effective and respectful partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities.

We continue to work collaboratively with other agencies and stakeholders to report relevant SDG data online through the Australian Government's Reporting Platform on the SDG Indicators.

Environmental impact of our operations

The department is committed to ensuring that its corporate operations reflect best environmental practice in a public service agency. We are dedicated to reducing the environmental implications of our operations as far as practicable in urban office environments and in the remote and regional areas where we work.

We value educating staff about how they can contribute to reducing our environmental impact. Some of the practices we use to manage our operational environmental impact include:

  • online guidance for staff
  • training for field staff, scientists and support staff in regional and remote areas in good environmental practices in Antarctica, World Heritage areas, national parks and reserves
  • promoting the efficient use of energy, water, paper and other natural resources
  • preventing or minimising pollution and greenhouse gas emissions where possible
  • offering alternative waste streams to reduce the amount of waste to landfill that we produce
  • monitoring and reporting on our environmental performance.

We have an active environmental contact officer network – ECONet – which involves volunteer staff members in developing and implementing initiatives to help improve environmental performance.

Energy efficiency

Our main office buildings maintain a base building rating of 4.5 or 5 stars under the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS). The buildings contain, or will be upgraded to, T5 energy-efficient lighting and movement sensors, which turn off lighting in office areas after hours. Our buildings have energy-efficient window blinds to reduce the energy required to heat and cool the buildings during the day. Air conditioning energy consumption is offset in some buildings by onsite solar electricity.

The department participates in the APS Demand Reduction Initiative – an effort across government agencies to reduce energy consumption. The initiative calls for Australian Public Service agencies in the ACT and New South Wales to lead by example. This includes reducing electricity demand when called upon during an energy emergency such as a supply shortfall during a heatwave. We have developed an action plan to reduce our energy consumption when needed. The action plan complements efforts to reduce our day-to-day energy consumption.

In 2019 we completed a review to identify energy-inefficient sites and potential resolutions. As a result, we are working to improve energy efficiency in a range of areas, including:

  • the Post Entry Quarantine facility at Mickleham, Victoria
  • patch rooms, server rooms and data centres
  • state offices
  • accommodation replacements
  • remote locations.

Some of these initiatives will have long delivery periods because of their complexity, multiple stakeholder engagement or the need for inter-governmental coordination.

In addition to our long-term property strategy, we have identified sites that incur unavoidably high energy use. We are studying the feasibility onsite electricity generation where this aligns with our strategic property plan. We have commenced with a review of our Cairns regional office and will go on to study other sites that are economically and technically appropriate.

In 2019–20 we completed a number of short-term projects. We commissioned LED lighting upgrades at our Fremantle and Cairns regional offices. We are considering further upgrades at our offices in Townsville, Karratha and Port Hedland.

We studied our data centre and server room environments to identify improvements to their air conditioning. We are working to minimise energy use by replacing the data centre computer room air conditioning (CRAC) at our Marcus Clarke Street office in Canberra. We also aim to replace an aged CRAC unit at the John Gorton Building in Canberra and decommission a redundant unit. In addition, we will implement universal temperature setpoint increases in communications rooms.

In 2019–20 the department's energy consumption (excluding diesel and petroleum products) decreased by approximately 4%, from 120,280 to 115,446 gigajoules (Figure 30). This can be attributed to:

  • departmental energy efficiency initiatives coming into effect during the year
  • an operational downturn because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is not possible to determine the exact impact of the pandemic on our energy consumption. A large number of our staff worked from home in the first half of 2020, but other factors also contribute to energy usage. As an essential service, the department maintained a presence in all of its premises throughout the pandemic and was unable to fully close any of its tenancies.

Our energy reporting for 2019–20 includes all sites from the former departments that now operate in the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. This has been compared with 2018–19 data for the same premises. Energy consumption in 2019–20 includes an increase in operational activity at our Post Entry Quarantine site.

Figure 30 Energy consumption, Australia, 2018–19 and 2019–20 A column graph showing the amount of energy consumed by the department in 2018-19 and 2019-20. The graphs shows the difference in consumption for each month of the 2 reporting periods. Consumption in July 2019 was 0.28% higher, at 11,890 gigajoules, compared with 2018. Consumption in August 2019 was 3.88% lower, at 11,988 gigajoules. Consumption in September 2019 was 4.67% lower, at 10,362 gigajoules. Consumption in October 2019 was 0.59% higher at 10.079 gigajoules. Consumption in November 2019 was 8.6% higher, at 9,889 gigajoules. Consumption in December 2019 was 1.94% higher at 8,275 gigajoules. Consumption in January 2020 was 1.28% lower, at 7,824 gigajoules. Consumption in February 2020 was 0.43% lower, at 7,883 gigajoules. Consumption in March 2020 was 5.91% higher, at 8,934 gigajoules. Consumption in April 2020, as pandemic restrictions came into effect, was 15.23% lower, at 8.304 gigajoules. Consumption in May 2020 was 16.94% lower, at 9,981 gigajoules. Consumption in June 2020 was 14.74% lower, at 10.012 gigajoules.


We monitor the fuel consumption and kilometres travelled for all fleet vehicles and encourage drivers to purchase ethanol-blended fuel (E10). We added 59 vehicles to our fleet size in 2019–20 as a result of the establishment of the new department in February 2020 and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to replace our vehicles with efficient hybrid or diesel vehicles where practical. In 2019–20 the proportion of hybrid vehicles fell slightly to 47%. The percentage of diesel vehicles increased to 24%. At 30 June 2020 we had 447 fleet vehicles, including 209 hybrid vehicles and 110 diesel vehicles.

In 2019–20 we consumed 16,289 GJ in transport fuels for passenger vehicles. Our transport energy consumption shows a downward trend since 2014–15 (Figure 31).

Figure 31 Transport fuel consumption, Australia, 2014–15 to 2019–20 A column graph showing the department's transport fuel consumption in its Australian operations. In 2014-15 fuel consumption was 20,103 gigajoules. In 2015-16 fuel consumption was 15,396 gigajoules. In 2016-17 fuel consumption was 17,704 gigajoules. In 2017-18 fuel consumption was 16,649 gigajoules. In 2018-19 fuel consumption was 15,033 gigajoules. In 2019-20 fuel consumption was 16,289 gigajoules.

Older vehicles in our fleet exceed the target set under the Commonwealth Green Vehicle Guide (GVG), largely obtaining 5-star ratings. Newer vehicles are now ranked based on carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions. Based on these indicators, fuel consumption has decreased. Our use of hybrid vehicles is also contributing to lower emissions.

Water conservation

Our Canberra office buildings in Marcus Clarke Street and London Circuit recycle and capture stormwater to flush all toilets where possible. In bathrooms and change rooms we have waterless urinals, water-saving shower heads, infrared motion-active hand basins and 4A-rated dual flush toilets. These initiatives contribute to reducing our reliance on the local water supply.

Waste management

The department supports and encourages good recycling practices. We provide ready access to segregated waste streams in the office environment. Recycling bins are located throughout all Canberra office buildings in kitchens and common areas. We provide bins for general waste, organic waste and commingled recycling. In other offices we aggregate combined paper and cardboard recyclables for collection. We also have a staff-led battery recycling initiative at our Canberra buildings and in some of our regional locations.

The organic waste stream is a feature of our central office buildings and can be used to dispose of compostable materials and foodstuffs. We collect all organic waste from these buildings to be processed into mulch. Other smaller sites are using their organic waste for composting and for use on staff-maintained vegetable gardens. This reclaims usable materials and reduces the quantity of general waste.

In 2019–20 our Canberra offices generated 212.13 tonnes of waste. Of this, around 52% was recycled, comprising:

  • 26.5 tonnes of commingled recyclables
  • 36.7 tonnes of paper and cardboard
  • 12.7 tonnes of organic waste.

Information on the total weight of batteries recycled is not available, as this is a staff-led initiative.

We are working through our property service provider to consolidate our waste removal contracts. Part of the head contractor's remit will be to rationalise services to better reflect the department's waste removal needs and avoid over-servicing our properties.

Operating in Antarctica

We are dedicated to reducing the environmental implications of our Antarctic operations as far as practicable. We train our field staff and our expeditioners in sound environmental practices. We monitor our energy and water use, our greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of waste that we return to Australia. Table 52 compares these indicators for our Antarctic station-based operations in 2018–19 and 2019–20.

Table 52 Environment impact of operations, Australian Antarctic Division stations, 2018–19 and 2019–20




Difference (%)

Average staffing level a




Energy use (MJ/L)

Electricity generated by diesel




Renewable energy generated




Electricity use per person




Operational diesel fuel




Marine diesel oil (shipping)




Aircraft fuel




Greenhouse gas emissions (t/CO2e)

Station emissions – diesel fuel

6,899 b



Total emissions – Antarctic operations




Water consumption

Total water use




Waste returned to Australia (tonnes)

Liquid waste – treated and disposed c




Waste sent to recycling facilities




Waste to landfill




MJ/L megajoules per litre. t/CO2e CO2 equivalent tonnes. a Full time equivalent. b Adjusted for updated calculation for emissions. c includes residual waste fuels that are recovered for industrial use.

In 2019–20 we recorded a 31% decrease in renewable energy generated because of wind turbine maintenance at Mawson Station. There was a minor decrease in transport fuel and water consumption because of a reduction in operations towards the end of the season, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The quantity and composition of waste returned to Australia from Antarctic operations can vary greatly, depending on logistical constraints and the nature of work occurring at our stations. In 2019–20 we recorded a large increase in the volume of liquid waste returned to Australia. We also conducted a container management project to identify and return loose inventory, equipment and stockpiled waste at Casey Station. As a result we removed 800 empty fuel drums, which were sent to scrap metal recyclers in Hobart.