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Statement from EPA Board Presiding Member

South Australians can be proud of the work that has been done to help protect and restore our environment. 

South Australia has taken leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through renewable energy generation, progressing a circular economy through resource recovery and removing a range of plastics from the waste stream. Programs have also been implemented to tackle biodiversity loss and improve management of our water resources.

Presiding Member Cathy Cooper

The State of the Environment Report 2023 shows, however, that for some areas, particularly climate change impacts and biodiversity, the trends continue to get worse. The 2018 State of the Environment Report included recommendations for addressing impacts on climate, biodiversity and coastal regions.

However, plans and actions have not delivered improvements at a scale and speed sufficient to address these impacts. Unless urgent measures are taken, the climate emergency and biodiversity losses will become crises for the environment and our communities.

The impacts of climate change will be felt across our state. For South Australians in metropolitan, regional and remote communities, extreme weather events will present significant health risks through heat, poor air quality, bushfires and floods. For industry, adaptation to these impacts will present significant business challenges. For the environment, changing ecological conditions will occur at a pace that is faster than nature’s ability to adapt.

For the first time, the 2023 SOER includes liveability, which recognises the importance of our environment for people’s health and wellbeing. This was recognised as an important value by the community from our consultation through YourSAy. Managing impacts from urban sprawl and infill through addressing protection and enhancement of green space and tree canopy, implementing water sensitive urban design and better facilitation of active and public transport is vital for maintaining the liveability of our environment, particularly in the face of climate change.

Despite the scale of the challenges and the fact that we may not always have sufficient data to fully understand the state of our environment, we do know that our actions for helping to protect the environment will influence its health for future generations. 

A number of strategies and plans have been developed across government to address critical environmental issues. Many of these have been discussed in this report. They provide actions that are critical to the future of our environment, society and economy. However, this report also recognises the lack of an overarching framework that could identify interdependencies between agencies and programs and prioritise actions based on the level of risk. Without this, critical actions may not receive the attention needed. We also need to measure the impact of these actions to understand whether they are making a difference.

The EPA recognises the importance of cultural knowledge of Aboriginal peoples as the traditional custodians in protecting and restoring Country. However, in the past, we have failed to incorporate their understanding of health of Country into the SOER. For the first time, South Australia’s State of the Environment Report includes an expert report and recommendations on how we can more effectively incorporate Aboriginal cultural perspectives into our approach for protecting the environment.

A healthy environment supports healthy people. It also supports South Australia’s economy. We need to improve this connection and inspire South Australians to be involved in protecting and maintaining a healthy environment. We can learn from Aboriginal peoples, who have a more holistic view of the environment on which they rely and see themselves as having a responsibility to ‘look after Country, so that it can look after you’.

The State of the Environment Report highlights pressures that have the potential to impact the environment and makes recommendations for action. Accountability will be important to ensure actions are resourced, enabled, driven and supported to ensure their implementation.

We have ‘planned’ – we now need to ‘do’ and ‘review’. Prioritisation and delivery of recommendations and actions are essential to South Australia achieving its goals.

Protecting the environment for future generations is a shared responsibility. If we all play our part and work together, our response will be stronger. This report is not just for government, but also for industry, communities and individuals. It can serve as a catalyst for meaningful conversations and collaboration. We will need to work together to achieve the necessary outcomes. By embracing resilience, sustainability and responsibility collectively, we can help ensure the future and prosperity of our beautiful state, for generations to come.

Ms Catherine Cooper

Presiding Member 
Board of the Environment Protection Authority