Introduction to Human Settlement

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

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 being responsible for most 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 discussed in Transport.

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 covered in Waste and Recycling, while management of legacy pollution of land and groundwater is outlined in the Contaminated Sites topic.

In this report:

  • 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.
  • In 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 have seen the number of notified and regulated contaminated sites grow, and 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.
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Aboriginal Perspectives

Country is everywhere, including within human and urban environments. It is living and breathing underneath all the buildings and connected to Aboriginal people through stories and culture. Aboriginal people still hold a strong responsibility to care for these places. For people to be healthy, the urban environments we live in need to be healthy too. From the beginning, Country has sustained Aboriginal peoples and Aboriginal peoples have sustained Country. The whole landscape, including all animals, plants and soils, were cared for and used sustainably according to stories and culture.

The arrival of Europeans brought many changes for Aboriginal people, the landscape and ways of life. Aboriginal people were excluded from planning decisions and most now live in heavily modified and intensively used environments that face many challenges.

As these places face increasing pressures, there is a need to work with Aboriginal people and recognise cities and urban environments as Country too. Aboriginal people’s knowledge, cultures and practices can help shape healthy urban and human environments across NSW. The responsibility to care for Country and nourish our human settlements is on all of us.