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Appendix C: Ecologically sustainable development and environmental performance

Section 516A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) requires Australian Government organisations to include details of their contribution to ecologically sustainable development and environmental performance in their annual reports. Section 516A also promotes the development of a framework that integrates environmental, economic and social considerations and helps improve environmental performance and the ecologically sustainable development of Australian Government agencies.

The following is a summary of activities by the Director of National Parks in 2019–20 in accordance with section 516A of the EPBC Act.

Ecologically sustainable development

1. How the activities of the organisation, and the administration of legislation by the organisation, accord with the principles of sustainable development (section 516A(6)(a))

In accordance with the principles of integrating environmental, social and economic considerations and with the objective of ensuring the long-term sustainability of biodiversity, the Director:

  • managed biodiversity in Commonwealth terrestrial and marine reserves in accordance with management plans prepared under the EPBC Act, which explicitly recognises the principles of ecologically sustainable development
  • managed the reserves in consultation with Boards of Management and advisory committees
  • undertook monitoring and assessment programs for plants and animals within the reserves
  • undertook compliance operations resulting in detection of illegal activities in the reserves
  • worked with Traditional Owners to implement cultural land management and use of resources.

The Director followed the principles of ecologically sustainable development, in particular the precautionary principle in order to:

  • comply with the EPBC Act (sections 324 to 390A)
  • comply with the decision-making and environmental-impact assessment procedures for works and new developments in Commonwealth reserves.

The Director worked in accordance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development to promote conservation of the environment for the benefit of future generations by:

  • digitally and physically promoting enjoyment and understanding of protected areas and their conservation objectives as set out in management plans for each reserve
  • working with Traditional Owners to ensure cultural knowledge about land management is incorporated into park management activities, and that opportunities are created for young Indigenous people to learn about and contribute to park management.

The following activities accord with the principles of ecologically sustainable development by ensuring that conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity is a fundamental consideration in decision-making:

  • Commonwealth reserves are managed in accordance with management plans established under the EPBC Act and with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area categories that have as their primary purpose the long-term conservation of nature.
  • Management plans set out clear decision-making and environmental assessment procedures for works and new proposals in Commonwealth reserves to ensure the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity.

The following activities accord with the principles of ecologically sustainable development by aiming to improve valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms:

  • Tour-operator engagement and tour-guide accreditation aim to improve the quality and consistency of visitor experiences.
  • Entry and park-use fees at heavily visited reserves ensure visitors contribute to the cost of park management.

2. How the outcomes specified in the relevant Appropriations Act contribute to ecologically sustainable development (section 516A(6)(b))

The Director of National Parks’ key outcome as identified in the 2019–20 Environment and Energy Portfolio Budget Statements is:

Management of Commonwealth reserves as outstanding natural places that enhance Australia’s well-being through the protection and conservation of their natural and cultural values, supporting the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in managing their traditional land and sea country, and offering world class natural and cultural visitor experiences.

For a summary of activities undertaken in 2019–20 refer to Chapter 4 of this annual report.

3. Effect of the organisation’s activities on the environment (section 516A(6)(c))

The Director is responsible for managing Australia’s Commonwealth reserves. Three of these reserves are managed jointly with their Traditional Owners. Potential large-scale threats to the reserves are mitigated by statutory protective mechanisms and decision- making and assessment processes set out in management plans. Through the EPBC Act and Regulations and in accordance with the management plan for each reserve, the Director manages commercial activities (such as tourism and camping) in terrestrial reserves, and regulates access and practices of a number of sectors that operate within multiple use Australian Marine Parks (such as commercial fishing and aquaculture).

4. Measures being taken by the organisation to minimise the impact of its activities on the environment (section 516A(6)(d))

The Director maintains a strong commitment to continuous improvement in environmental performance by maximising efficient use of resources, reducing waste, and building environmental awareness among its employees and volunteers.

Each terrestrial reserve management plan identifies actions to reduce the ecological impact of the reserve’s operations. Office paper, toner cartridges and organic waste are recycled in some reserves, and office machines (photocopiers and printers) are automatically programmed to save power. Where possible, work is completed digitally and printers are programmed to produce duplex (double-sided) documents as a default to reduce paper use.

5. Mechanisms for reviewing and increasing the effectiveness of these measures (section 516A(6)(e))

In accordance with the Australian Government’s policy on energy efficiency in government operations, the Director reports publicly on annual energy performance in both the Department’s annual report and in this report. Public reporting provides a number of benefits to the Director including:

  • increasing awareness of energy and greenhouse issues
  • measuring relative performance
  • providing a benchmarking tool
  • tracking changes over time
  • identifying high-intensity areas
  • encouraging improvement through transparency.

A summary of environmental performance related to greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption is provided in Table C1 and Table C2, paper consumption in Table C3, and water consumption in Table C4.

Environmental performance

The environmental performance of Parks Australia’s metropolitan (Canberra, Darwin and Hobart) office-based employees is included in the Department’s environmental performance report. This report covers Parks Australia’s operations in the following locations:

  • Kakadu National Park
  • Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park
  • Territory of Christmas Island (Christmas Island National Park)
  • Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Pulu Keeling National Park)
  • Jervis Bay Territory (Booderee National Park)
  • Territory of Norfolk Island
  • Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Operational requirements at each site, such as electricity, transport, developing new infrastructure and managing waste, contribute to our carbon footprint. Some reserves have specialised needs, for example the Australian National Botanic Gardens maintains climate‑controlled conditions in many of its glasshouses, while at Kakadu National Park, fire management and feral animal control activities require helicopter use. Additionally, the remote location of some reserves limits opportunities to reduce their environmental impact, such as on our three Island parks. Reserve management activities such as fire management may also have implications for the carbon cycle, but careful management of these practices to conserve biodiversity help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy use

Environmental, economic and social objectives and considerations are either in place, or being prepared for integration into management plans and climate-change strategies for all Parks Australia sites. These include:

  • maintaining greenhouse gas emissions from park operational activities to at or below
    2017–18 levels
  • developing the Director of National Parks Climate Change Statement, and individual park environmental plans identifying actions to reduce the carbon footprint of park operations and the level of carbon emission reductions associated with each mitigation action
  • changing existing electric hot water systems to solar hot water, instantaneous gas or heat pumps, as replacement becomes necessary
  • installing energy-efficient light fixtures and light-controlling devices (such as motion sensors) in all park facilities
  • replacing older vehicles with more efficient vehicles.

In 2019–20, emissions from stationary energy consumption (office and building use) across our parks and gardens was 8 per cent higher than the three year average, however this figure remains relatively stable when compared to the previous year (Table C1). Stationary energy use for many of our places was reduced due to COVID-19 related park closures, and as a result of steps taken to switch to renewable energy sources (as was the case on Christmas Island). However, a hailstorm at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in 2020 caused damage to glasshouses and propagation tunnels that required the use of additional gas heating to maintain the environments. This is the main reason for the total emissions being consistent with those from 2018–19.

Emissions from transport energy consumption (fuel from vehicles and aircraft) across our parks and gardens was 5.3 per cent lower than the three year average, and 15.8 per cent lower than last year (Table C2). This result can largely be attributed to park closures due to the COVID‑19 pandemic and from bushfires in NSW and the ACT. Also contributing to the overall reduction in fuel use was the grounding of aerial land management activities at Kakadu National Park due to an incident in May 2019.

With the rollout of new IT equipment this year, our employees are able to further minimise transport energy use, using alternatives to air travel such as tele- and video‑conferencing. However, we must recognize that that face-to-face contact and visits to remote locations are sometimes necessary, particularly for engaging Traditional Owners at our jointly managed parks.

Table C1: Greenhouse gas emissions from stationary energy use in our reserves from 2016–2020

2016–17 (tonnes of CO2-e)

2017–18
(tonnes of CO2-e)

2018–19
(tonnes of CO2-e)

2019–20 (tonnes of CO2-e)

Annual average 2016–19

% change compared with average

Australian National Botanic Gardens

734.64

917.21

1,045.96

1090.12

899.27

21.2

Booderee National Park

119.21

106.45

114.94

96.75

113.53

-14.8

Christmas Island National Park

56.39

59.58

53.33

31.341

56.43

-44.5

Kakadu National Park

932.02

848.97

843.59

905.84

874.86

3.5

Norfolk Island National Park and Botanic Garden

9.32

9.69

6.54

7.91

8.52

-7.1

Pulu Keeling National Park

11.20

11.17

10.52

8.03

10.96

-26.8

Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park

1,622.57

1,555.19

1,835.94

1785.78

1671.23

6.9

Total

3,485.35

3,508.26

3,910.83

3925.76

3634.81

8.0

1 Two 20KW solar systems were installed at Christmas Island office and at the Pink House research station in September 2019 that contributed to the reduction in electricity usage.

Table C2: Greenhouse gas emissions from transport energy use in our reserves from 2016–20

2016–17 (tonnes of CO2-e)

2017–18
(tonnes of CO2-e)

2018–19
(tonnes of CO2-e)

2019–20 (tonnes of CO2-e)5

Annual average 2016–19

% change compared with average

Australian National Botanic Gardens

20.30

13.581

13.71

11.42

15.86

-28.0

Booderee National Park

50.35

52.46

127.212

94.69

76.67

23.5

Christmas Island National Park

100.76

81.01

97.99

90.31

93.25

-3.2

Kakadu National Park

488.13

581.39

628.13

512.38

565.88

-9.5

Norfolk Island National Park and Botanic Garden

9.57

8.88

7.703

9.74

8.72

11.8

Pulu Keeling National Park

2.31

2.67

0.834

1.88

1.94

-3.0

Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park

151.95

120.81

134.71

130.19

135.82

-4.1

Total

823.37

860.79

1,010.27

850.61

898.15

-5.3

1 In 2017–18 there was a 37 per cent decrease in the amount of emissions from transport energy use at the Gardens due to a reduction in field trips.

2 The increase in fuel use at Booderee National Park in 2018–19 was due to a larger fleet of vehicles as a carry-over of new vehicles replacing older vehicles and, for a period, having both fleets in operation.

3&4 Norfolk Island and Pulu Keeling National Park have reduced their stationary energy use due to no longer using Petrol fuel.

5 Reductions transport energy use can be attributed to park closures from COVID-19 and summer bushfires in NSW and the ACT.

Waste

Obtaining accurate measurements of greenhouse emissions from waste remains challenging and exact estimates were not available in 2019–20 for all reserves.

The Director adopts environmental best-practice principles for resource use and the management of waste products. Management plans are in place or in preparation for all sites, and include provisions to minimise waste production across park operations. Such provisions include:

  • establishing guidelines to formalise waste-reduction strategies into standard park practises (such as reducing consumption, duplex printing, recycling)
  • sourcing consumable items such as office paper from renewable sources
  • where possible, providing recycling facilities to visitors or promoting ‘rubbish-bin free’ sites that encourage the public to take their waste home for recycling
  • for island sites such as Norfolk Island, arranging for mainland recycling of consumables such as used printer cartridges.

The amount of paper purchased decreased by 45.7 per cent in 2019–20, when compared with the number of reams purchased over the previous three years (Table C3). This was mainly due to reduction in printing due to staff working from home, however we remain committed to providing web-based visitor and interpretative materials, which will further reduce printing and paper consumption in future years.

Excluding metropolitan office-based employees whose paper use is reported in the Department’s annual report, this year the terrestrial reserves operated with an average of around one ream per person, well below the 10 reams per person target set for the Australian Public Service. Several reserves also use 100 per cent post-consumer recycled paper for printing.

Access to regional recycling facilities is gradually improving for more remote locations such as Kakadu and Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Parks and external territories. Basic recycling facilities are available on Norfolk Island and office paper is being sourced from renewable sources when available. Kakadu participates in a regional recycling and resource recovery program, and will continue its recycling programs for paper, glass and aluminium in and around offices. Uluṟu is operating the Muṯitjulu waste site facility in line with the Waste Management Guidelines for Small Communities in the Northern Territory. Recycling facilities continue to be available in all Australian National Botanic Gardens offices and on-site facilities, including composting of organic kitchen waste. The Gardens is a rubbish-bin-free site for the public and they are encouraged to take home their waste for recycling.

Table C3: Reams of paper consumed in our reserves from 2016–20

2016–17

Reams of paper

2017–18

Reams of paper

2018–19

Reams of paper

2019–20

Reams of paper

Annual average 2016–19

% change compared with average

Australian National Botanic Gardens

180

170

191

250

180

38.6

Booderee National Park

159

148

101

38

136

-72.1

Christmas Island National Park

25

25

25

25

25

0.0

Kakadu National Park

200

225

250

01

225

-100.0

Norfolk Island National Park and Botanic Garden

20

25

10

15

18

-18.2

Pulu Keeling National Park

0

2

1

1

1

0.0

Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park

40

45

43

12

42

-71.9

Total

624

640

621

341

628.33

-45.7

1 No paper was purchased at Kakadu in 2019–20 as the park had a store of previously purchased paper to use.

Water

Protecting water quality is a high priority for Parks Australia. The quality of surface water, groundwater and water holes in our reserves is monitored regularly, as activities in certain reserves must not interrupt the natural flow of water.

Management plans are also in place (or in preparation) for all sites to ensure that water use is minimised and water quality maintained. These plans include actions to:

  • audit water use in Commonwealth reserves and implement actions to provide efficiencies and improvements
  • implement water-saving initiatives such as rainwater harvesting, water recycling, the use of water-saving devices and upgrading water-reticulation infrastructure
  • provide information to visitors on how to protect water quality.

In 2019–20, we recorded a decrease in water use of 1.4 per cent across the parks and gardens when compared to the average of the previous three years (Table C4). While most parks reported a decrease due to park closures, Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park reported an increase due to the spike in visitor activity during the months leading up to the climb closure (see Case Study 5). A larger than usual bushfire season also required additional water resources to manage.

Table C4: Kilolitres of water consumed in our reserves from 2016–20

2016–17 (kL)

2017–18 (kL)

2018–19 (kL)

2019–20 (kL)

Average (kL) 2016–20

% change compared with average

Australian National Botanic Gardens

174,786

204,353

200,921

184,773

193,353

-4.4

Booderee National Park

14,486

12,000

10,740

4,389

12,408

-64.6

Christmas Island National Park

4,126

7,477

5,069

5,098

5,557

-8.3

Kakadu National Park

64,340

78,576

39,0611

59,199

60,659

-2.4

Norfolk Island National Park and Botanic Garden2

-

-

-

-

-

Pulu Keeling National Park3

21

13

03

12

11

5.9

Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park

94,352

95,852

96,576

10,8795

95,593

13.8

Total

352,111

398,271

352,367

362,266

367,583

-1.4

1 Figure for 2018–19 based on annual water rate notice for Headquarters and Jabiru residences only.

2 Norfolk Island National Park and Botanic Garden operates entirely on harvested rainwater.

3 A reticulated water system for the micro nursery at the Cocos headquarters was installed in January 2016 which initially used water from the Island water supply. The system now relies on captured rainwater.