Australia’s environmental scorecard worsened in 2023, but the country fared better than much of the rest of the globe, according to a report from the Australian National University (ANU).

Conducted annually, Australia’s Environment Report compiles detailed scientific data to give the country a score out of 10.

In 2023 the score was 7.5, down from 8.7 in 2022.

Professor Albert Van Dijk, from the ANU’s Fenner School of Environment, said that was mostly to do with rainfall.

“The main reason for that [is] to do with the fact that it basically rained less than the year before,” Professor Van Dijk said.

“That basically led to less wetlands, less river flows, less vegetation growth and so forth,” Professor Van Dijk said.

Flash flooding affected parts of Victoria late in 2023, including the Murray town of Swan Hill.(Supplied: Mark Smith)

The average national rainfall was 511mm, roughly on par with the long term average though significantly less than the 2022 average of 663mm.

Weather data is combined with satellite data on water flows, vegetation growth, threatened species and biodiversity to calculate the annual score.

State and territory scores are also calculated, with the Northern Territory having the highest score and Western Australia the lowest.

From wet to dry in just a few months

In terms of weather, 2023 was a “roller-coaster” for Australia, the report found.

“So the year started very wet coming out of several La Nina years,” said Professor Van Dijk.

“Then it suddenly got very dry indeed and unseasonably warm for the winter months.

“Then towards the end of the year most of Australia suddenly got a lot of rain again.”

There were also 82 days where the national average was over 35 degrees Celsius.

Perth was also lashed by wet weather later in the year.(ABC News: Jake Sturmer)

That figure is 10 per cent more than 2022, and 4 per cent more days than the average.

2023 was the hottest year on record globally, though for Australia it was the eighth hottest.

After a couple of wet and mild years, Australia’s average temperature was a quarter of a degree above the average when measured between 2000 and 2023.

When measured against the national average between 1961 and 1990, Australia’s national average temperature was almost a full degree warmer.

“The whole world suffered global warming quite badly last year, but in some ways, Australia dodged a bullet,” Professor Van Dijk said.

“But I wouldn’t suggest that we’ll keep continuing to dodge those bullets.

“Global warming is there, and we will have very hot years in the near future.”

Many species ‘a shadow of what they used to be’

Tens of thousands of koalas were killed in the Black Summer bushfires.(Supplied: Zoos Victoria)

The number of threatened species grew by 25 per cent contributing to Australia’s dip in overall environmental performance.

A record 130 species were added to the threatened species list last year, many still recovering from the Black Summer Bushfires.

Professor Van Dijk says there’s an environmental lag caused by such catastrophic events.

“More than half of those 130 species that were added to the threatened species list this year are there as a consequence of those fires, and they have not recovered yet.

“If you go to those forests and you go look at them now, they’re a shadow of what they used to be.”

There were also at least 40 new species discovered in Australia last year, which were mostly invertebrates.

Australia ranks 15th for emissions

Australia’s emissions increased in 2023 for the first time in four years.(Reuters: Tim Winborne )

The report found that Australia’s population grew “rapidly” in 2023, by 3.5 per cent, the most rapid increase in decades.

Greenhouse gas emissions also increased for the first time since 2018, by 0.7 per cent from the previous year, but they were still 1.7 per cent below the average for 2000-2022.

The carbon emitted from electricity production fell by 3.5 per cent, though emissions increased by 7.8 per cent for transport and 3.8 per cent for agriculture.

Overall Australia is the 15th largest emitter in the world, contributing one per cent of global emissions.

The report found that per capita, Australians are the 10th worst greenhouse gas emitters, just after Saudi Arabia.

Australians emit “3.3 times more than the global average and two times more than a Chinese person”, the report said.

Professor Van Dijk said the pandemic contributed to the dip in emissions in the preceding four years.

“So clearly by staying at home, obviously emissions went down — that unfortunately stopped in 2023, and that’s mainly because of domestic air travel,” Professor Van Dijk said.

Professor Van Dijk said Australia should be a leader on environmental policy.

“We’re a rich country and if we do not show our commitment, how can we expect others to show theirs?”