How to use this report

The NSW State of the Environment 2018 (SoE 2018), 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 tenth SoE since 1993.

SoE 2018 aims to provide credible, scientifically based environmental information at the statewide level to assist those involved in environmental policy and decision-making and managing the state's natural resources.



Although SoE 2018 has been prepared by the EPA, the scope of the State of the Environment report is too broad to be covered by just one agency. SoE 2018 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 as an inter-agency SoE coordination committee.

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


Structure and linkages

SoE 2018 is structured around six broad themes and 21 separate topics within those themes.



The first theme of the report describes the key drivers of human caused change in the environment: population growth and economic trends. While these drivers lead to a build-up of threats and pressures on the environment their effects are diffuse and manifested through a multitude of pathways so that it is difficult to directly attribute changes in the environment to their effects.

The population of NSW is continually growing and trends in population growth, settlement patterns and residential densities are described in the Population topic. Growth in population helps to drive economic growth and prosperity for the people of NSW. To respond effectively to the environmental challenges presented by a growing economy requires a more sophisticated understanding of how the economy and the environment interact. Trends in economic growth and the relationship to resource consumption and decision making are discussed in the topic Economic Activity and the Environment, as well as new economic instruments and accounting systems that can enhance environmental management and decision making.


Human Settlement

The Human Settlements theme addresses issues that arise in the urban environment in which most of the people of NSW live, including energy use, transport trends, greenhouse gas emissions, urban water use, management of contaminated sites and waste and recycling.

The growth in population and the economy described in the Drivers theme 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 electricity generation and transport responsible for the majority of these emissions. Energy production and use is described in the Energy Consumption topic, while trends in the use of public and private transport are described in the Transport topic.

Communities, industry, and agriculture all require access to reliable sources of water. Drinking water quality and patterns of potable water use are described in the Urban Water Supply topic. Trends in waste generation, recycling and litter prevention are described in the Waste and Recycling topic. Management of legacy pollution of land and groundwater is outlined in the Contaminated Sites topic.


Climate and Air

Energy generation, industrial and manufacturing processes and transport give rise to emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Ensuring that air quality remains at a high level is essential to provide a clean living environment and maintain the health of the NSW population. While air quality is generally good in NSW the levels of the major pollutants and the issues that can arise in some situations are discussed in the Air Quality topic.

The build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial age is leading to changes in our climate. The overall levels and trends in greenhouse gas emissions in NSW are described the Greenhouse Gas Emissions topic. The changes in current temperature and weather patterns in NSW and future projections of change are discussed in the Climate Change topic, as well as the impacts of these changes on the environment more generally.



The natural environment is subject to disturbance from human land-uses and land management practices. Managing the land sustainably and maintaining the quality of habitat for natural ecosystems and wildlife enhances their prospects for survival in the longer term.

Healthy soils provide essential ecosystem services and the primary productivity that supports natural ecosystems and the economic prosperity of the state. The health of soils in NSW and recent changes in condition are described in the Soil Condition topic. Changes in the extent and condition of native vegetation and the quality of habitat it provides, as well as recent trends in clearing rates, are discussed in the Native Vegetation topic. The preservation of ecosystems and habitats is described in the Protected Areas and Conservation topic.



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 current patterns in the status and trends for threatened species are discussed in the Threatened Species topic. However, many species are not threatened and the broader patterns of survival and trends in animal populations are described in the topic Native Fauna.

The main threats to the survival of species are habitat destruction through the clearing of native vegetation and competition and predation by invasive species, while climate change will become a major threat in the future. The impacts of invasive species on the survival of native species and ecosystems are discussed in the Invasive Species topic.


Water and Marine

One of the greatest challenges facing NSW is continued access to reliable sources of good quality 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 the share of water available for the environment is described in the Water Resources topic for surface water and in the Groundwater topic for sub-surface water. The ecological health of rivers and the effects of water extraction and flow regulation are described in the River Health topic, and the relationship to wetlands health in the Wetlands topic.

Most rivers flow to the sea through estuaries and the Coastal, Estuarine and Marine Ecosystems topic covers the health and impacts of pressures on the estuarine, coastal and marine environments of NSW.



Indicator Summaries

SoE 2018 assesses the current Status and Trends for each of 73 environmental indicators, and the reliability of the information used to make these assessments. These are generally judged over the reporting period, between the previous report (SoE 2015) and the current report.

Key to the indicator summaries
Indicator term Information
Ratings of indicator Status The rating of indicator Status refers to the environmental condition of the indicator.
Green – Good: the data shows a positive or healthy environmental condition
Yellow – Moderate: the data shows that the environmental condition is neither good nor poor, or results may be mixed across the state
Red – Poor: the data indicates poor environmental condition or condition under significant stress
Unknown Insufficient data is available to make an assessment
Rating term Information
Ratings of indicator Trend

The environmental rating of indicator Trend describes the direction of significant change in environmental condition, where this can be differentiated from natural background variation. The trend is judged over the three years of the reporting period, but with a greater focus on the latest and most current data.

Longer-term data is considered, where available, to help interpret the significance of any change. The trend reported, if maintained, may have an impact on the overall status of the indicator in the future.

Getting better The trend in environmental condition for the indicator is improving (environmental impacts are decreasing)
Stable No significant change in condition is evident, allowing for some variation due to background variability that occurs naturally
Getting worse The trend in environmental condition for the indicator is deteriorating (environmental impacts are increasing)
Reliability indicator Information
Information reliability The information reliability rating signifies the level of confidence in the data and information used to make these assessments. It considers the statewide extent of data coverage, the accuracy and 'fitness for use' of the data in assessing the Status and Trend for the indicator. This is represented by the symbols below.
✔✔✔ Three ticks = Good
✔✔ Two ticks = Reasonable
One tick = Limited