Towards a clean air future for all Australians
About this document
It is well recognised that Australia’s current air quality remains very good by world standards. Australian governments have, over a number of years, successfully implemented measures to reduce air pollution which have significantly improved Australia’s overall air quality with positive environmental and health impacts.
We want to maintain this good performance, while addressing areas of concern. Peak levels of airborne pollutants such as ground level ozone and particulate matter (PM) frequently approach or exceed national air quality standards in some Australian cities (ozone) or nearly all regions (PM). Furthermore, there are specific areas of concern to local communities, including emissions of sulfur dioxide and PM, from a range of sources (for example, industrial activity, heating).
Air quality issues may be limited to a particular region due to local air pollution sources, or may be more widespread and experienced across one or more jurisdictions, due to common air pollutant sources (such as vehicle emissions) or due to the trans-boundary movement of airborne pollutants.
Regardless of the source of air pollution, it continues to be a major human health concern, given the known respiratory and cardiovascular effects and recently recognised carcinogenic properties of air pollutants. Sensitive individuals (children, the elderly and those with existing respiratory and/or cardiovascular disease) are particularly susceptible to air pollution. Other concerns of air pollution include environmental impacts, economic costs, and impacts on our quality of life, especially in our cities and towns.
Looking to the future, there are multiple drivers that run the risk of accelerating air pollution and the impacts of air quality in Australia, including:
- Population Growth and Ageing: Australia’s average annual rate of growth in the population is projected to be 1.3 per cent. This would see Australia’s population rise to 39.7 million people by 2054-55, up from 23.9 million people today. In 2054-55, life expectancy at birth is projected to be 95.1 years for men and 96.6 years for women, compared with 91.5 and 93.6 years today. The number of Australians aged 65 and over is projected to more than double by 2054-55.
- Urbanisation: By 2061, an estimated 74 per cent of Australians, compared to 66 per cent in 2012, are expected to live in a capital city - areas where people are more likely to be exposed to many sources of pollution.
- Increased Transport and Energy Demands: Over 70 per cent of all domestic travel occurs via roads. By 2030, road and rail freight are expected to grow by 80 and 90 per cent, respectively. National public transport is projected to grow by 30 per cent to 2030. The Australian transport sector is expected to rely heavily on oil over the next 20 years.
Such challenges could erode the successes in air quality achieved to date and lead to poorer air quality outcomes for current and future generations. Given the evidence at hand and the challenges impacting on our air quality, Environment Ministers have recognised it is timely to map out a path for a clean air future for Australia.