ACT’s population

ACT light rail vehicle. Source: Ryan Colley

This section discusses changes in the ACT’s population. For information on population density and the impacts of population growth on the ACT’s land use, see Indicator L1: Land use change.


Whilst population growth is a critical driver of environmental pressure and change, a condition assessment of population change is not provided here. However, it is important to include population data to understand changes in many of the indicators used in State of the Environment reporting.

Environmental pressures are exacerbated by a growing population as it increases the demand for energy, transport, resources such as water, and a range of goods and services. This leads to land use change for food production, housing and other infrastructure, and more waste going back into the environment. Such changes can lead to direct impacts on the environment through the loss of vegetation and biodiversity, increased water extraction and degradation of water quality, increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and increased land and water impacts from waste.

Although a growing population generally results in increases in environmental pressures, this can be minimised by improving sustainability through energy and resource use efficiencies, and by reducing waste through improved recycling and reuse.

Condition and trends

Population growth in the ACT

In 2018, the ACT’s population was approximately 423,000 (Figure HS1). The ACT has experienced strong and sustained population growth – in the 10-year period between 2008 and 2018 the population grew by approximately 72,000 people, an average annual increase of 7,200 or 1.7% per year. The average annual increase over the 10-year period was variable, driven by a combination of factors including natural increase, retention of people of a diversity of ages, and immigration from overseas and interstate. 

The ACT’s 2016 population share by district is shown in Figure HS2. Districts with the highest population include Belconnen (24%), Tuggeranong (21%), Central Canberra (20%) and Gungahlin (18%).

Areas of the ACT experiencing the highest population growth include Gungahlin which accounted for over 50% (around 39,000 people) of the total growth over the decade to 2016, and Belconnen and North Canberra which both grew by around 11,000 people over the decade. Other growth areas included Molonglo and South Canberra with both adding around 4,000 people, and Woden Valley increasing by 2,800 people. Tuggeranong recorded a population decline of nearly 2,000 people over the 10-year period. 

The ACT’s population is projected to increase to around 589,000 people by 2041. This will increase pressures on the ACT’s environment and will require effective sustainability and land use measures to minimise the impacts of such growth.

Figure HS1: ACT estimated resident population 2008–2018 (as at 31 December) and projected population in 2041.
Data sourced from: Australian Bureau of Statistics1 and Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate.

Figure HS2: ACT 2016 – population share by district

Map showing the ACT population share by district. From the north it reads: Gungahlin 18%, Belconnen 24%, Central Canberra 20%, Eastern Canberra < 1%

Source: Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate, 2018, Planning Strategy 2018, ACT Government, Canberra.