Graphic of NSW with dots denoting towns and cities

The NSW population grew by

Grey Up


people on average each year from 2012 to 2017

Graphic of NSW with people

NSW's population is expected to reach

9.9 million

people by 2036

Housing graphic

Greater Sydney's population was

4.8 million

people as of 2017

Graphic with high rise buildings

People per sq. km in NSW

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increase between 2008 and 2017

The NSW population continues to increase; between 2012 and 2017 the annual average growth rate was 1.5%. Population growth is a key driver of human-caused changes to the environment.

By June 2017, there were 7.9 million people living in NSW, 61% of whom lived in Greater Sydney. NSW gained more than 550,000 people between June 2012 and June 2017.

Population density in NSW has also risen. In June 2017, there were an average of 9.8 people per square kilometre – a 12% rise since 2008. In Greater Sydney, there were almost 450 people per square kilometre – 65 more people than in 2008.

By 2036, the NSW population is expected to grow to 9.9 million. Most of this growth is anticipated to be in Greater Sydney. The challenge is to manage projected population growth alongside environmental protection, conservation and liveability.

The NSW Government has developed long-term plans for Greater Sydney and regional NSW. The plans aim to provide for sustainable and resilient development with a balanced approach to the use of land and water resources while enhancing liveability and protecting the natural environment.

Other strategies for reducing environmental impacts of urbanisation and a growing population include the NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy, the Sydney Green Grid framework for enhancement of open space, Future Transport 2056 and the 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan.

Related topics: Energy Consumption | Transport | Urban WaterWaste and Recycling


Population growth is a significant driver of environmental impacts. Rising population and increasing urbanisation lead to greater demand for housing, energy, water, consumer products and transport services, as well as increased resource use and waste and emissions generation.

An understanding of the dynamics of the NSW population is critical when devising strategic planning processes that provide for:

  • environmental protection
  • enhanced liveability
  • sustainable land use
  • management of the impacts of population growth on the environment.


The State of the Environment (SoE) reporting framework is based on the pressure-state-response model of reporting. Within this framework the topics of Population and Economic activity and the environment are treated as drivers of environmental change. However, the actual effects of population increase and economic activity on environmental resources and ecosystems depend on how increased demand for transport, land, food, housing, energy and potable water, and increased waste generation is managed.

Figure 1.4 shows changes in population and a number of environmental indicators relative to their levels in 2006, with all values for each indicator adjusted to a baseline of 100% for that year. Between 2006 and 2016 there was a steady increase in population, while most of the environmental indicators grew at a lesser rate or decreased.

Figure 1.4: NSW population growth compared to trends in energy, greenhouse gas emissions, transport, water and waste, 2006–16

* You may need to scroll to the right to see the full content, or switch to landscape orientation.

This chart is interactive - click on legend or hover over chart

0237 SOE Graphic Assets web-V3-MS


Energy data includes ACT; greenhouse and urban water data are for all of NSW; VKT = vehicle kilometres travelled on an average weekday (in Household Travel Survey Sydney area, counting vehicles and drivers only); MLA = metropolitan waste levy area.


ABS 2017, EPA data 2018, NSW – various agencies 2008–17, TfNSW Household Travel Survey data 2018, DEE 2018a, DEE 2018b)

Specifically, Figure 1.4 shows the following:

  • Total energy use fluctuated during 2006–16, but by 2016 was at the same level as 2006, resulting in a reduction in energy consumption per capita. Emissions of greenhouse gases decreased during this period. Energy consumption has been dropping due to reduced demand from industry, increased uptake of renewable energy and greater efficiency of buildings and equipment. See Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Overall household trips, measured by total vehicle kilometres travelled by drivers, increased, but at a lower rate than population growth because less trips are being made per household. The environmental impacts of increased traffic on roads include congestion, noise, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. See Transport and Air Quality
  • Total waste generation, measured in the Sydney metropolitan waste levy area, reduced by 4% since it plateaued in 2012 and 2013 and waste generated per capita has declined since 2008. In populated areas, waste products (e.g. solid waste, sewage, hazardous waste and atmospheric emissions) need to be managed to avoid increased stress on natural ecosystems. See Waste and Recycling and Air Quality
  • Overall urban water consumption dropped in response to water-saving policies and initiatives implemented during the millennium drought of 2003–2009 but has since started to rise again with population growth. A growing population requires more water for residential consumption and agriculture and puts pressure on the environmental health of river systems. See Urban Water Supply

The Australian State of the Environment Report 2016 includes a similar chart of selected socio-economic and environmental indicators to that shown in Figure 1.4. Broadly, this shows that NSW outcomes over the same time period are generally better than or similar to the national trend for common indicators.

A growing population, especially with a trend towards fewer people per dwelling, requires more housing. Based on current population projections, the NSW Government has identified that 725,000 additional homes will be needed by 2036 to meet demand.


While the NSW Government has firm population projections, it has not developed specific population targets, growth plans or limits to population growth.

In October 2018 the NSW Premier announced the appointment of an expert panel to develop a population policy for NSW. The panel will consider:

  • the current rate of population growth and infrastructure pipeline
  • how long it will take for infrastructure to catch up with population growth rates
  • NSW’s role at upcoming population discussions with the Commonwealth Government.

The Panel will also recommend next steps for more detailed work on the issue of population.

A number of plans have been developed to respond to the potential impacts of population change.

The Greater Sydney Region Plan

The Greater Sydney Region Plan: A Metropolis of Three Cities is the NSW Government’s 40-year vision for the Greater Sydney Region.

The plan aims to re-balance growth and deliver benefits more equitably to residents across Greater Sydney. Prepared concurrently with Future Transport 2056 and the State Infrastructure Strategy 2018–2038, it aligns land use, transport and infrastructure planning to reshape Greater Sydney as three unique and connected cities: the Western Parkland City, the Central River City and the Eastern Harbour City.

It will boost productivity by bringing together good jobs and skilled workers; make Greater Sydney’s suburbs more liveable as they grow through a place-based design approach; and make the three cities more sustainable by protecting the natural environment and open spaces.

Regional Plans

The NSW Government has 10 Regional Plans in place across the state that play a critical role in how natural resources are managed to ensure the prosperity and productivity of the NSW economy, as well as the health of local communities and the environment.

Regional Plans are long-term strategic planning documents that articulate a vision and plan for housing, jobs and community infrastructure to meet the needs of a changing population. Each Regional Plan also includes goals and actions to protect the environment and encourage sustainable use of resources, tailored to suit the region.

NSW Premier’s Priorities

The Premier’s Priority Delivering Infrastructure aims to deliver metropolitan, regional and local infrastructure projects to support an anticipated 113% increase in train trips, 30% increase in car trips (2018 State Infrastructure Strategy) and 40% more households (2016 NSW population and household projections) by 2036. These initiatives include new public transport developments.

See also the Responses sections in the TransportEnergy Consumption and Climate Change topics.


Waste management in NSW is guided by the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery (WARR) Strategy 2014­–21 (EPA 2014), which, as noted in relation to Figure 1.4, has facilitated a decrease in per capita waste generation rates and total waste generation.

In 2017, a draft NSW Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Strategy 2017–21 was released for consultation to assist the waste industry to understand expected increases in waste streams and to plan sufficient processing infrastructure capacity.

See also the Responses sections in the Waste and Recycling topic


The 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan sets out strategies and programs for ensuring a sustainable water supply to meet the needs of the people and environment of Greater Sydney. The NSW Government has also developed initiatives for water and sewerage for towns in regional NSW, such as integrated water cycle management.

See also the Responses sections in the  Urban Water Supply topic.

A range of NSW Government programs helps reduce the impacts of population growth. Many of these are discussed in the Energy Consumption, Waste and Recycling, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Urban Water Supply and Transport topics. Some key programs addressing sustainability in urban environments are discussed below.

The Sydney Green Grid provides a framework for projects that will enhance liveability and biodiversity and increase ecological resilience by delivering an interconnecting network of open space throughout the city. This network includes parks, bush, creek corridors, transport routes, suburban streets, footpaths and cycleways.

The Metropolitan Greenspace Program (MGP) supports local councils in Greater Sydney and the Central Coast to improve regional open space by co-funding projects to deliver the Green Grid network. Since 1990, the program has awarded over $45 million to more than 620 projects.

The Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) is an integral part of the development assessment system in NSW. It sets energy and water saving targets, and minimum thermal comfort performance requirements for all new residential dwellings and significant renovations.  Since the introduction of BASIX in 2004, the NSW Government estimates 460,000 homes have saved 202,000 megalitres of potable water and reduced carbon emissions by 6.3 million tonnes (DPE 2015).

Reducing the environmental impacts of population growth can be achieved with careful management. The plans for Greater Sydney and regional areas outlined in this topic contain many elements that will improve sustainability outcomes.

In addition to these plans, the draft NSW Government Greener Places green infrastructure policy, when finalised, will guide urban planning, design and management to improve the network of green spaces. This will help reduce the urban heat island effect, improve biodiversity and increase access to walking and cycling pathways. The policy applies state-wide and links to the existing Sydney Green Grid program and sustainability objectives in the Greater Sydney Region Plan.

There are also opportunities to investigate each impact area at a strategic level and analyse the per capita reductions that would be needed to manage the impact of population growth. This will help define responses, including the possibility of setting new targets for key impact areas as part of the planning process.


ABS 2016, Census of Population and Housing - QuickStats, Community Profiles and DataPacks User Guide, Australia 2016, cat. no. 2916.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra

ABS 2017, Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2017, cat. no. 3101.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra []

ABS 2018, Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2017, cat. no. 3218.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra []

DEE 2018a, Australian Energy Statistics, Table B, August 2018, Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra []

DEE 2018b, State and Territory Greenhouse Gas Inventories 2016, Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra []

Dexter CE, Appleby RG, Edgar JP, Scott J & Jones DN 2016, ‘Using complementary remote detection methods for retrofitted eco-passages: A case study for monitoring individual koalas in south-east Queensland’, Wildlife Research, 43, pp. 369–79 []

DPE 2015, BASIX scores and savings, Department of Planning and Environment, Sydney []

DPE 2016, New South Wales State and Local Government Area Population Projections: 2016, Department of Planning and Environment, Sydney []

EPA 2014, NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014–21, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney []

EPA 2017, Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Strategy 2017–21: Draft for consultation, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney []

GSC 2018, Greater Sydney Regional Plan: A Metropolis of Three Cities – Connecting People, Greater Sydney Commission, Sydney []

Hess GR, Moorman CE, Thompson J & Larson, CL 2014, ‘Integrating wildlife conservation into urban planning’, Urban Wildlife Conservation: Theory and Practice, pp. 239–78, doi: 10.1007/978-1-4899-7500-3_12 [ (PDF 1.6MB)]

NSW, various agencies 2008–17, Water Supply and Sewerage: NSW Benchmarking Reports, Table 8 []

TfNSW 2018, Future Transport 2056, Transport for NSW, Sydney []