The population of NSW is expected to reach 10.57 million people by 2041 with most growth in Greater Sydney. Population growth is the main driver of environmental issues.
Since 1990, the NSW economy has grown by 2.4% a year and has shifted over time from a resource-intensive industry base to being 70% services-based now.
Between 2010 and 2019, carbon emissions fell by 13% while the economy grew by 26%, indicating a decoupling of carbon emissions from economic growth.
Energy consumption per capita in the NSW and the ACT decreased by 3.2% from 2017 to 2019 while the share of renewable energy sources in the NSW electricity supply reached 19% in 2020, a rise of 3% since 2017.
By contrast, energy use for transport continues to rise at a steady rate, together with transport-related emissions.
Litter has dropped by 43% over the past six years while the percentage of waste diverted for recycling has increased slightly.
Sustained efforts has seen the number of notified and regulated contaminated sites grow and so too have the number of sites remediated.
Water use per person per day in NSW has been stable since 2009, but pressure from population growth and weather events continues.
The effects of climate change, especially increases in temperature, are already being felt and will become more intense in the future.
NSW greenhouse gas emissions in 2018–19 were 136.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e), which is 17% lower than in 2005.
By 2030, emissions are projected to be 47–52% lower than 2005 levels with current policies implemented.
NSW air quality is generally good, although particle pollution soared in 2019 due to the continuing drought and unprecedented and extensive bushfires.
While native vegetation covers 69% of NSW, the ecological carrying capacity of this vegetation is estimated at just 31% of natural levels in the aftermath of the 2019–20 Black Summer fires.
Since 2018, more than 300,000 hectares have been added to the public reserve system, which now covers around 9.6% of land in NSW.
In contrast, permanent clearing of native woody vegetation in NSW has increased about three-fold since 2015 and stands at an average of 35,000 ha cleared each year. Permanent clearing of non-woody vegetation, such as native shrubs and ground covers, occurs at an even higher rate.
Soil resources in NSW are generally in a moderate condition. Ongoing declines are mainly due to acidification caused by intensified land use, with the added recent hazard of wind erosion levels which has increased four-fold over the past three years due to prevailing weather conditions.
The Black Summer fire season was the most severe ever recorded in NSW with about 5.5 million hectares burnt. It is estimated over a billion animals were killed, burnt or displaced in NSW. Where fire history is available, an estimated 62% of vegetation is now under pressure from too much fire.
The number of species considered at risk of extinction continues to rise with 1,043 NSW species listed as threatened, 18 more than reported three years ago. A further 116 ecological communities are also listed as threatened.
The conservation status of 64% of land-based NSW vertebrates is presently not considered to be threatened.
Freshwater fish communities are in very poor condition across the state and are declining.
Invasive species are widespread across the state’s land and aquatic environments and regarded as a major threat.
The period from 2017 to 2020 saw some of the worst droughts in recent record. During this time, significantly less environmental water was available for delivery into inland rivers and wetlands.
The overall environmental condition of rivers is moderate but waterbirds and fish communities are in poor condition. The major river systems of the Murray–Darling Basin are generally in poorer condition than coastal rivers.
The abundance of waterbirds declined in 2020 to about 40% below their long-term median.
Groundwater provides 27% of all metered water use in NSW, a notable increase from three years ago when it was 11%.
Marine and coastal environments are in good condition overall, but the state of estuaries is more variable.