The 2018 report looks at 21 environmental topics across six broad themes covering DriversHuman SettlementClimate and AirLandBiodiversity and Water and Marine. The report shows population growth and human activity have influenced air and water quality, ecosystems and threatened species.

Key findings in this SoE Report include:

  • Air quality is generally good, drinking water quality has been maintained at a high quality and the recreational water quality of our beaches continues to be good.
  • The overall rate of greenhouse gas emissions has fallen 18.5% since 2005.
  • Electricity generation from renewable resources has more than doubled from 6% in 2007 to 16% in 2017 and growth has accelerated rapidly over the past three years
  • The NSW economy is predominantly services based and there is evidence that economic growth is ‘decoupling’ from the use of environmental resources.
  • The NSW Government’s $802.5 million Waste Less, Recycle More program has continued to be effective in managing waste, with littering down and new recycling facilities opening for problem wastes.
  • About 9.5% of NSW is conserved in the public reserve system. Although the rate of new reservations has slowed, with around 32,000 ha being added to reserves since 2015, there is a greater focus on off-reserve conservation.

Ongoing challenges

Many of the challenges reported in previous SoE reports remain in the 2018 report findings. These include:

  • The growing population of NSW continues to exert pressure on the environment. Innovative ways to use our natural resources more sustainably and to protect fragile ecosystems must continue to be found.
  • The effects of climate change are already evident but these will become broader and intensify in the future.
  • The number of species listed as threatened in NSW continues to rise. These species are at the greatest risk from threats including vegetation clearing, the spread of invasive species and the mounting impacts of climate change.
  • NSW is still heavily dependent on non-renewable sources of energy such as coal for power generation. Transport has become the largest (and fastest growing) sector for energy use.
  • The condition of most native vegetation is deteriorating.
  • Our love of the coast continues to put pressure on the condition of coastal estuaries and lakes.

Population has grown at about 1.5% per annum over the past 5 years and is the main driver of environmental issues. 

Since 1990, the NSW economy has grown by 2.6% a year, but over the past 10 years levels of resource use have dropped. 

The economy has shifted from a resource intensive industry base, to now be 70% services-based.

Energy use has dropped by 6% since 2012-13 and there has been strong growth in the uptake of renewable sources of electricity.

The use of energy for transport continues to rise at a steady rate in line with population.

Litter has dropped by 37% over the past 5 years and recycling of waste has increased.

The effects of climate change, especially increases in temperature, are already being felt, but will become more intense in the future.

NSW greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2007 and are now 18.7% lower than 2005 levels. 

Air quality is generally good but ozone and particles continue to pose a health concern in some regions.

Soil resources in NSW are generally in a moderate condition. Declines are mainly due to acidification caused by intensified land use.

Native vegetation covers 61% of NSW. The latest reported clearing rate in 2014–15 was 14,700 hectares/year.

The public reserve system covers 7.59 million hectares or around 9.5% of land in NSW.

The number of species considered at risk of extinction continues to rise. There are currently 1025 species listed as threatened in NSW.

However, the conservation status of 64% of land-based vertebrates is presently not threatened.

Invasive species are a major threat and are widespread across land and aquatic environments.

The share of water for protecting the aquatic environment is growing.

Drought conditions are intensifying. The overall condition of rivers is moderate but waterbirds and fish communities are in poor condition.

The marine and coastal environments are in good condition overall, but estuaries are more variable.

Key Responses

The NSW Government undertook a number of significant environmental reforms during the reporting period. The responses to major environmental issues are described under each Topic (go to Theme page and select Topic). Some key responses include:

  • A complete overhaul of the framework for managing the State’s biodiversity, by legislating the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 which provides a more streamlined and transparent approach to managing biodiversity and the clearing of native vegetation. In addition, $240 million has been allocated over five years to support a greater commitment to long-term conservation of biodiversity on private land.
  • The container deposit scheme – Return and Earn commenced in December 2017, for the take back of beverage containers as part of the NSW Government’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative. The $50 million litter prevention program has led to a 37% fall in litter volumes since 2013–14.
  • New funding from 2017–2022 for the Climate Change Fund to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy, transport, waste and agriculture, as well as helping the community, businesses and governments to build resilience and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
  • Coastal and Marine Estate reforms to improve the way our coastlines are managed and developed, and a new approach to the sustainable management of the NSW marine estate, to protect the marine environment and manage it for the greatest well-being of the community, now and into the future.