The main findings of the 2019 ACT State of the Environment report provide a summary of the current condition and trends for a range of natural and sustainability issues in the ACT. This page contains collected findings from all seven environmental themes.
There is clear evidence of a warming climate trend in the ACT.
Annual mean maximum temperatures have risen by over 1.5 °C since records began in 1926.
Minimum temperatures have warmed the most, having risen by around 2 °C since records began in 1926, with 2016 the warmest year on record for mean minimum temperatures.
Since 2013, every year has been among the eleven warmest years on record for daytime temperatures and 2018 was the warmest year on record for daytime temperatures in the ACT.
The number of hot days has doubled since 1950, with 5 days above 40°C in January 2019, and an increase of 4 days per year for temperatures above 35 °C.
Rain is variable in the ACT region, with no long-term trend, although recent years have been drier than average with the exception of 2016.
Projected climate trends
Regional climate modelling suggests the following projections: reduced rainfall, particularly for spring and winter rainfall; more frequent and prolonged drought; average temperatures will continue to increase in all seasons; more frequent and severe storms with flash flooding, violent winds, and thunderstorms; and harsher fire-weather climate.
Impacts of climate change
There are significant climate risks to ACT’s community, economy and the natural environment.
Reduced inflows to water storages, with all but 2 years between 2001–02 and 2018–19 below the long-term average.
Increase in tree dieback and mortality of urban trees.
Increase in the average and maximum Fire Danger Index and an increase in the number of days with a very high Fire Danger Rating.
Occurrence of dust storms due to higher temperatures and reduced rainfall.
Increase in cyanobacterial blooms in Canberra’s lakes.
Greenhouse gas emissions
In 2017–18, ACT’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 3,368 thousand tonnes of CO2-e (carbon dioxide equivalent).
Total emissions decreased by 17% between 2012–13 and 2017–18 due to the growth in renewable electricity generation.
By 2020, emissions from electricity generation will fall to zero.
With the elimination of electricity emissions,
total emissions are projected to decrease to around 1,918 thousand tonnes of CO2-e, meeting the legislated 2020 target.
Per capita annual greenhouse gas emissions were just over 8 tonnes in 2017–18, a decrease of around 24% from 2012–13 and of 29% compared to 1989–90 levels.
Between 2012–13 and 2017–18, the electricity generation and transport sectors were the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions in the ACT.
Between 2012–13 and 2017–18 transport emissions increased by 13%; this growth, combined with the decrease in electricity emissions, saw transport contributions rise from 25% to 34% of total emissions.
The stationary gas sector contributed 11% of total emissions in 2017–18 and industrial processes 8%.
As the electricity sector moves towards zero emissions by 2020, transport will contribute 62% of total emissions, nearly double its 2017–18 proportional contribution. Stationary gas and waste will also double in contribution.
Between 2012–13 and 2017–18, greenhouse gas emissions from diesel fuel nearly doubled; as a result, the diesel contribution to total transport emissions rose from 23% to 34% over the same period.
Transport and the phasing out of natural gas will become the main focus for future reductions of greenhouse emissions in the ACT.
In 2018, the ACT’s population was approximately 423,000.
In the 10-year period between 2008 and 2018 the population grew by approximately 72,000 people, an average annual increase 1.7% per year.
Districts with the highest population include Belconnen (24%), Tuggeranong (21%), Central Canberra (20%) and Gungahlin (18%).
Gungahlin experienced the highest population growth, accounting for over 50% of total growth over the decade to 2016. Belconnen and North Canberra both grew by around 11,000 people over the same period.
The ACT’s population is projected to increase to around 589,000 people by 2041.
In 2017–18, the total ecological footprint for the ACT was around 2.12 million hectares. This is over nine times the size of the ACT and shows that current resource use is unsustainable.
The ACT’s ecological footprint has consequences for areas of Australia and overseas that provide the resources, goods and services consumed by the ACT community.
Since 2009–10, the total ACT ecological footprint has decreased by nearly 11%.
In 2017–18, the per capita footprint was 5.24 hectares, a decrease of nearly a quarter since 2003–04. The ACT’s per capita ecological footprint is now equivalent to that for the average Australian.
Since 2009–10, the total carbon footprint decreased by over 20% and the per capita carbon footprint by 34%. The per capita ACT carbon footprint is now 11% lower than that of Australia.
Household final consumption of goods and services is responsible for 70% of the ACT’s ecological footprint.
ACT’s ecological footprint is dominated by land disturbance from the pasture required for animal products. However, in per capita terms, the area of land disturbance from pasture requirements decreased by 23% between 2003–04 and 2017–18.
Land disturbance from emissions declined by one-third between 2003–04 and 2017–18 reflecting the ACT’s growing renewable electricity supply.
Impacts from food expenditure accounted for 50% of the ACT’s total ecological footprint in 2017–18.
Expenditure on mobility accounted for 25% of the total carbon footprint in 2017–18 compared to 19% in 2003–04. Transport will likely become the highest contributor to the ACT’s carbon footprint in the future.
Data on the ACT’s energy use is not sufficient to enable a comprehensive assessment of the ACT’s energy generation and consumption. This includes a lack of data on energy consumption for fuel types other than electricity, and the consumption of energy by sector.
Electricity demand in the ACT is stable, despite population growth.
Electricity consumption per capita decreased by 12% between 2010–11 and 2017–18.
The ACT’s total renewable electricity generation increased significantly between 2015–16 and 2017–18, rising from 20% to nearly 50% of electricity generated.
Predicted renewable electricity generation for the period 2018–19 to 2020–21 shows that the ACT is forecast to reach 100% in 2020.
The ACT will be the first jurisdiction in Australia and the eighth jurisdiction globally, to procure renewable generation equivalent to 100% of its consumption.
Wind farms supply the majority of the ACT’s renewable electricity.
Wind farm generation significantly increased from 7% in 2016–17 to over 50% in 2018–19, and will supply over 70% of total renewable electricity in 2019–20 and 2020–21.
Rooftop solar photovoltaic generation continues to be installed in the ACT and has increased its share of renewable electricity generation in recent years.
The only renewable electricity generated in the ACT comes from solar farm and rooftop solar generation.
Waste data currently excludes waste exported outside the ACT. This means that the data reported understates the actual volume of waste sent to landfill.
Total waste generation, waste to landfill and resources recovered are highly variable in the ACT with changes mostly occurring in response to specific activity from the construction and demolition sector (including the Mr Fluffy program) as well as increases in garden waste.
The annual total waste generated in the ACT between 2009–10 and 2018–19 ranged from 816,000 to 1.2 million tonnes, with no consistent trend over time.
Between 2009–10 and 2018–19, annual landfill per capita ranged from 0.5 to 1.1 tonnes per person, resources recovered from 1.2 to 2 tonnes per person, and total waste between 2 and 2.6 tonnes per person with no consistent trend over time.
Resource recovery is generally much higher than waste sent to landfill, with most years recording a resource recovery rate of 70% or higher.
Annual resource recovery in the ACT has plateaued to around 70% to 75% of the total waste generated or 0.55 tonnes per person (excluding the Mr Fluffy program).
Waste from the Mr Fluffy program accounted for 40% (202,000 tonnes) of the total waste sent to landfill in 2016–17. This declined to 5% (12,000 tonnes) in 2018–19 with the majority of the program completed.
Excluding the Mr Fluffy program, between 2016–17 and 2018–19, municipal solid waste accounted for the highest proportion of the annual total waste sent to landfill (between 39% and 49%), closely followed by commercial and industrial waste (between 35% and 47%). Construction and demolition waste varied widely over the period, from 25% of the total waste sent to landfill in 2016–17, to only 6% and 9% in the following years.
Total municipal solid waste generation appears to be stable despite the annual population increase in the ACT. This may indicate improved recycling behaviours and/or changes in the consumption of goods and services leading to a decline in waste per person.
During the reporting period, ACT was found to comply with the National Environment Protection Measures related to waste management (includes the Movement of Controlled Waste between States and Territories, and Used Packaging Materials).
Transport – Private vehicle use
The ACT community is highly dependent on cars which are used for 78% of all trips undertaken. Public transport is only used for 4% of trips and cycling only 2%.
Although the most common purpose for car travel was work related, cars are the main transport choice for a range of daily activities.
Cars were used for over 80% of travel to work with most commuting undertaken with the driver as the sole vehicle occupant. Public transport was used for only 8% of travel to work, cycling 5% and walking 3%. There was little change in travel-to-work transport modes between 2011 and 2016.
The number of registered vehicles in the ACT has grown from around 253,000 vehicles in 2010 to 304,000 in 2018, an increase of 20%. Passenger vehicles were responsible for 84% of total vehicle registrations and light commercial vehicles 10%.
Vehicle usage is increasing in the ACT. In 2018, ACT’s registered vehicles travelled nearly 3,900 million kilometres, with passenger vehicles responsible for 82% of the total kilometres travelled. The next most common category was light commercial vehicles accounting for 13% of kilometres travelled.
Between 2002 and 2017, daily commute times increased by 65% in the ACT, the highest of any Australian city. The ACT’s mean daily commute time in 2017 was 52 minutes, which means that the ACT’s commute times are approaching those recorded in other Australian cities.
In 2019, 86% of registered passenger vehicles were fuelled by petrol making it the dominant fuel type in the ACT.
Diesel fuelled 12% of vehicles in 2019, a threefold increase since 2010. The large increase in diesel vehicles is of concern given their increased impact on air pollution, especially particulate matter emissions.
Hybrid and electric cars only make up 1% of the total passenger vehicles in the ACT but, in terms of vehicle numbers, have increased from around 150 in 2010 to nearly 2,900 in 2019. The ACT, along with South Australia, have the highest number of electric car purchases in Australia, with 21 electric cars per 10,000 vehicles sold.
Transport – Public transport and active travel
Public transport use has been increasing in recent years, growing from 17.6 million boardings annually (45 boardings per capita) in 2014–15 to 20.1 million (48 per capita) in 2018–19.
The 2018–19 figures include nearly 878,000 light rail boardings in just over two months between its commencement on 20 April 2019 and 30 June 2019.
Cycling is highly variable across the ACT with the Civic area having a significantly higher uptake of cycling, likely due to a flatter terrain and shorter distances to work and study centres.
Between 2011 and 2019, cycling participation in the ACT was higher than the national average. Despite this, there are wide variations in year-to-year cycling participation and a statistically significant decline in ACT’s weekly cycling participation between 2017 and 2019.
In 2019, the ACT had some 3,100 km of shared paths and some 600 km of on-road cycling facilities. Given the high level of cycling infrastructure in the ACT, there is much scope for improving cycling participation, including across gender and age groups.
During 2018–19, total inflow to the ACT’s four reservoirs was 32 gigalitres, the lowest since records began in 1912, and 86% below the long-term average.
ACT’s water resources are being affected by a long-term period of mostly dry conditions.
Water availability has declined significantly in the ACT with mean storage volumes around 40% below the long-term average for the past 20 years.
Between 2001–02 and 2018–19, total inflows to the ACT’s four reservoirs were below the long-term average for all but two years.
At the end of June 2019, the ACT’s four reservoirs were holding just 57% (157 gigalitres) of the total ACT storage capacity. This is despite the enlargement of the Cotter Dam in 2013 which increased the ACT’s water storage by 72 gigalitres.
Without the increase to the Cotter Dam, the combined ACT storages would have dropped to around 30% of their total capacity – similar to levels during the Millennium Drought.
Between 2009–10 and 2018–19, there was little variation in the ACT’s wastewater recycling with volumes remaining around 4,000 megalitres to 4,500 megalitres, representing around 12% to 17% of the ACT’s total wastewater produced.
The majority of the ACT’s treated wastewater is discharged into the Molonglo River providing environmental flows, protecting riverine ecosystems and providing for downstream use.
Potable water consumption
The ACT and Queanbeyan’s total water consumption has remained fairly consistent since 2012–13 at around 50,000 megalitres annually, despite increases in the population serviced.
Water usage in 2017–18 was 54,000 megalitres, the highest volume over the past 10 years. This increase has been driven by hotter and drier weather conditions and is not necessarily indicative of an increasing trend in water usage.
Between 2001–02 and 2017–18, residential per capita water use dropped from 124 kilolitres per year to 78 kilolitres per year, a decrease of around 37%.
The ACT uses over 90% of the water supplied, with Queanbeyan using around 8%.
Residential supply accounts for around 60% of the total water supplied annually, this has remained consistent since 2008–09.
Most gains in water use efficiency can be made at the household level.
Air quality over the reporting period (2015 to 2018)
PM2.5 is the most serious air quality issue for the ACT with levels that are likely to have health implications for sensitive individuals.
Over the reporting period, there were 31 exceedances of the daily National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM) standard for PM2.5. The Monash station accounted for 28 of the exceedances.
Exceedance results show that PM2.5 pollution is far more likely in the Tuggeranong Valley.
Over the reporting period, there were no exceedances of AAQ NEPM standards for Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3) and particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in size (PM10).
Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of smoke and dust impacts on air quality, and increased ozone formation.
Health impacts of air pollution
Any reduction in air pollution will result in health benefits, even where pollutant concentrations are within the air quality standards.
Emissions of air pollutants
Diffuse sources of air pollutants, especially from transport and wood heaters, are known to be the main contributors to air pollution in the ACT.
Over the 2017–18 and 2018–19 period, the ACT Environment Protection Authority (EPA) received 5,562 environmental complaints.
Land use change 2015–16 to 2018–19
It was not possible to determine changes in the area of urban and rural lands. However, any changes are estimated to be small.
Nearly 75% of ACT Government land is zoned for natural ecosystems and greenspace.
Land development continues to be an environmental challenge for the ACT.
Between 1991 and 2016, the ACT’s urban land area grew by 57%, compared to a population increase of 43% over the same period. If this ratio of urban growth to population continues, the ACT’s current urban footprint would need to increase by a further 46% by 2041 to accommodate projected population growth.
Threatened species and ecological communities
As at 2019, a total of 52 species of fauna and flora across all habitats (terrestrial and aquatic) were listed as threatened under the Nature Conservation Act 2014.
Critically endangered species include the Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia), Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor), Northern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne pengilleyi), the locally extinct Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea), Canberra Spider Orchid (Caladenia actensis), Brindabella Midge Orchid (Corunastylis ectopa), and the Kiandra Greenhood (Pterostylis oreophila).
In 2018, ‘the loss of mature native trees (including hollow-bearing trees) and a lack of recruitment’ was listed as a key threatening process in the ACT, adversely affecting 4 vulnerable bird species including the Superb Parrot (Polytelis swainsonii), Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus), Glossy Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami) and Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides).
Conservation: extent of conservation areas
In 2019, 141,000 hectares have conservation status in the ACT, protecting 60% of the total ACT area. This not only represents a significant proportion of the ACT’s natural environment, but is also a much higher proportion than any other jurisdiction in Australia.
Conservation: condition of conservation areas
Representation of threatened fauna in conservation areas
The Broad-toothed Rat, Greater Glider, Northern Corroboree Frog, and Smoky Mouse threatened species have all, or close to all, of their known and potential habitat in ACT conservation areas.
Threatened fauna with less than 50% of their known and potential habitat in ACT conservation areas include the Perunga Grasshopper (47%), Golden Sun Moth (44%), Striped Legless Lizard (33%), and Grassland Earless Dragon (25%). However, these species have a substantial proportion of their habitat on national land (between 20% and 50%) and are subject to management as required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Representation of threatened flora in conservation areas
Over half of the known threatened plant sites in the ACT are located in reserves or on other land managed by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service (PCS). An additional 20% occur on national land, which is managed by the National Capital Authority.
Threatened flora species with a substantial proportion of known locations outside ACT conservation areas include Black Gum (Eucalyptus aggregata), Button Wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides), Tarengo Leek Orchid (Prasophyllum petilum), Canberra Spider Orchid (Caladenia actensis), Small Purple Pea (Swainsona recta), and Murrumbidgee Bossiaea (Bossaiea grayi).
Representation of threatened ecological communities in conservation areas
The least protected vegetation communities in the ACT are woodland, grassland and open forest communities, with under 30% of their extent protected in conservation areas.
Native vegetation: extent
While the loss of native vegetation due to urban development remains of concern, it is unlikely to be the largest source of native vegetation change in the ACT. Chronic degradation of habitat condition, mainly in fragmented landscapes, is a significant problem in the ACT.
Native vegetation: condition
There has been a significant increase in the incidence of dieback in Blakely’s Red Gum (E. blakelyi).
Invasive terrestrial plants and animals
Invasive terrestrial plants and animals: invasive plants
Invasive terrestrial plants and animals: invasive animals
Aquatic ecosystem health 2015 to 2018
The main pressures on aquatic ecosystem condition in the ACT are land use impacts, modified river flows, and climate change.
Macroinvertebrate condition 2015 to 2018
Only 25% of reaches assessed were found to have good to excellent macroinvertebrate condition, 26% were found to be in poor to degraded condition, with 49% classed as fair.
Only 14% of reaches were assessed as having good to excellent riparian condition, 37% were found to be in fair condition and 48% were assessed as poor to degraded.
There are positive trends for some populations of native fish including the Two Spined Blackfish and Macquarie Perch in the Cotter River, and Murray Cod in some sections of the Murrumbidgee River.
Alien fish species are common in the ACT, with native fish typically accounting for less than 30% of total fish abundance and less than 20% of total fish biomass in the Murrumbidgee River. The dominance of alien species in the Murrumbidgee River is mainly due to high numbers
River flows 2015 to 2018
Water Quality 2015 to 2018
Recreational water quality 2016–17 to 2018–19
Nearly every monitored recreation site experienced closures due to the exceedance of enterococci (faecal coliform bacteria) guidelines.
Area burnt long-term findings
Since the 2003 bushfires, which burnt an area of 164,000 hectares, there have been no large bushfires in the ACT.
Area burnt over the reported period (2015 to 2019)
Over 13,000 hectares were burnt with prescribed burns responsible for 96% (12,540 hectares) of the total area burnt.
Fire ignition causes
Most fires in the ACT are deliberately lit. Between 2004 and April 2019, arson accounted for 45% of all non-prescribed burn ignitions in the ACT, compared to 16% for lightning and 10% associated with accidents.
Since 2009, fuel reduction burns accounted for 99% (around 31,500 hectares) of all prescribed burns in the ACT.
The period 2015 to April 2019 saw a large increase in ecological burning with 270 hectares treated. In addition, 10 hectares were burnt for both cultural and ecological reasons (multiple purpose) and one hectare for cultural purposes only. However, ecological and cultural burns only accounted for 2% of all prescribed burns over the period.
Fire risk 2014–15 to 2018–19
The reporting period saw an increase in the average and maximum Fire Danger Index (FDI), showing a growing trend in potentially more severe fires if they were
to occur. Increased FDI also indicates an increasing potential difficulty in fire suppression in the ACT.
Climate change is expected to increase both average and severe FDI in the future.