Integrated Environmental Assessment to inform Environmental decisions

Damien Burrows
Led by: Prof Damien Burows, JCU / RRRC


Project Summary

This project is a cross-hub research collaboration that draws on the considerable experience, regional knowledge, data and networks in the NESP Hubs to explore the potential application, and benefits, of integrated environmental assessments (IEA), focusing on Northern Australia. The project will develop a process framework to guide IEA, identifying available information and critical knowledge gaps, methods for synthesis and analysis, and participatory approaches and governance settings. The project will review the existing tools and systems to support IEA and identify opportunities and potential location/s to test implementation in Northern Australia. The project will provide decision-makers in the Department (and State and Territory regulatory and planning agencies) with pathways for undertaking IEA approaches in Northern Australia, to underpin sustainable regional development and, avoid environmental harm to internationally important biodiversity assets and cultural heritage values.


Project Description

A collaborative project to improve environmental outcomes and decision-making.

Across Northern Australia, significant and new opportunities for economic development are being explored. The Northern Australian landscape also boasts environmental and cultural values of global, national, regional and Indigenous significance. Some of these values, however, are poorly understood, and the benefits they provide to society not well-articulated.

This lack of knowledge hinders the decision-making capacities and flexibility of Government agencies charged with prioritising new areas for development, particularly in the agricultural, aquaculture and mining sectors. It also leaves industries, financiers and regional communities uncertain and risk-averse about investment and, importantly, places our environment at risk due to poorly informed decision-making.

This project will explore how an IEA approach could assist Governments and key stakeholders to manage existing and emerging environmental, cultural and knowledge risks in Northern Australia by creating greater certainty about regional development suitability.

This project will draw on the principles of IEA, to set out a framework to support sustainable, participatory decision making, using Northern Australia as a case study.

This framework will set out a process for synthesising, analysing and presenting relevant environmental, cultural, economic data, knowledge and cultural perspectives, as well as suitable governance arrangements, participatory and deliberative processes for IEA. It will draw on research projects within each hub that are: addressing natural resource management and research questions; filling ecological knowledge gaps; and developing frameworks to improve decision making about future development in Northern Australia. The output of this project will be a report documenting how this framework and an IEA approach can support complex decision-making in natural resource planning and regulatory processes for development. The report will provide recommendations about the specific knowledge and governance needs and opportunities to undertake IEA in northern Australia, at the level of broad scale regional planning and policy decision making. As a synthesis project, it has potential to contribute knowledge that will benefit decision-making in other key regions of Australia.


NESP 2017 Research Priority Alignment

This project aligns with NESP cross-cutting issue: Be designed with consideration of how it may intersect and integrate with the priorities of other NESP hubs.

This project aligns with the following Hub research priorities:

Develop and trial spatially explicit tools to guide planning and management decisions that support a mix of multiple uses and protected areas while maintaining environmental values. (A4) Identify evidence-based methods for the assessment of development impact on species and ecosystems which can be better integrated into planning processes and EPBC Act approvals (A5).

Identify critical knowledge gaps in the understanding of environmental resources in northern Australia to better prioritise government investment.(B4)

Participation of Indigenous people in environmental management across northern Australia, including Indigenous Protected Areas. (C2)

Improved information on the distribution of threatened species and ecological communities to better pinpoint their location. Including the review of current species distribution models, and incorporating the capacity for species to adapt to climate change (D2.4).

Opportunities for mutual benefit to threatened species and business in a streamlined regulatory environment (D3.3).

Improve the management of marine and coastal biodiversity by evaluating and quantifying the results of management interventions (A1.2)

Identify key social and economic values of the marine environment to build better stakeholder support and engagement in the management of marine and coastal environments (A1.4)

Develop and trial decision making tools that will support policymakers and managers to identify options and prioritise activities (A1.4)

Improve prediction of likely future pressures and their potential impacts on marine and coastal biodiversity and economic and social values to enable the mitigation of avoidable impacts (A2.4)

Identify and prioritise social and economic risks and uncertainties associated with natural resource management and evaluate the impacts these have on management and policy options for natural resource management and improvements to tropical water quality (3.4.2)

Collaborate across NESP Hubs to ensure that Earth Systems and climate change research informs the broader Programme. This would include provision of nationally consistent and targeted regional climate projections and information relevant to specific issues, such as threats to marine and terrestrial ecosystems and ocean acidification.

Engage with stakeholders to ensure that the information is being provided in a manner which supports decision-making and is meeting the needs of end users..


Project Keywords

Decision making; Development; NESP program; MNES; EPBC Listed Threatened Species


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through UM, Developing Northern Australia CRC, WAQ, UTas, CSIRO and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.


Project Publications