Introduction to Drivers

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

The population of NSW generally continues to grow, despite a slowdown (and possible temporary reversal) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trends in population growth, settlement patterns and residential densities are described in the Population topic.

Achieving sustainable economic growth requires an understanding of the relationship between the economy and the environment. Trends in economic growth and the interaction between the economy and resource consumption, waste production and environmental disturbance are discussed in the Economic activity and the environment topic, along with new economic instruments and accounting systems that will enhance environmental management and decision-making.

In this report:

  • 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.
  • Between 2010 and 2019, carbon emissions fell by 13% while the economy grew by 26%, indicating a decoupling of carbon emissions from economic growth.
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Aboriginal Perspectives

As the NSW environment faces increasing pressures due to economic trends and a growing population, decision-makers need to work together with Aboriginal people, whose knowledge, cultures and practices can help shape a more sustainable environment.

As one of the largest landowners in NSW, Aboriginal people and organisations are well placed to provide input on future social and development planning tools and concepts for regional growth areas that maximise positive environmental and social outcomes and protect open spaces, as well as reducing negative environmental impacts from intensive development in major cities.

Many Aboriginal services have a regional focus for delivery and planning. Careful development of future regional growth areas can help reduce impacts in major centres with Aboriginal communities leading development and growth in these areas.