About the Environment Reference Standard

The Environment Reference Standard (PDF 987KB) is part of the Environment Protection Act 2017 and commenced on 1 July 2021.

The ERS:

  • identifies environmental values that the Victorian community want to achieve and maintain
  • provides a way to assess those environmental values in locations across Victoria.

About environmental values

An environmental value is an aspect of the environment and how we use it that is important to us. It is an outcome Victorians want for human health and the environment.

Examples of environmental values include:

  • clean water to swim in
  • sound levels that let us sleep at the night
  • air quality that supports  human health and the environment.

What the Environment Reference Standard covers

The ERS is itself made up of many reference standards.

These reference standards are in groups that cover four aspects of Victoria’s environment:

  • ambient air
  • ambient sound
  • land
  • water (surface water and groundwater).

Each reference standard identifies an environmental value.

Most reference standards also have indicators and objectives. These are how we assess if the environmental value is being achieved, maintained or threatened.

An indicator is something we measure. For example, carbon monoxide is one indicator we use to measure ambient air quality.

An objective is the level of an indicator, or a way of using an indicator, to help us assess the environmental value. For example, for carbon monoxide (the indicator) in ambient air, the objective is 9.0 parts per million (maximum concentration).

Most objectives have a scientific basis for how we assess them. These objectives are usually quantitative, which means they are something we can count or measure.

A small number of objectives have a descriptive (qualitative) basis for how we assess them. For example, to assess ambient sound in natural areas it is the kinds of sounds we hear, not the levels of sound, that are important.

The ERS also defines the parts of Victoria that the reference standards relate to.

Some standards apply broadly. For example, the ambient air standards relate to all of Victoria’s ambient air environment. Other standards have environmental values or objectives that just apply to certain areas.

How the Environment Reference Standard is reviewed and amended

The ERS must be reviewed every 10 years from the day it was made. It can also be reviewed when new knowledge becomes available.

The process for periodic reviews includes public notice of the review and invites comments, which are considered by the Minister. 

The consultation process is informed by EPA’s Charter of Consultation and is carried out by EPA and the Department of Energy Environment and Climate Action (DEECA).

The ERS is created and updated by the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister for Environment.

The process for updating the ERS must be consistent with the requirements of the Subordinate Legislation Act 1994. 

EPA works with the DEECA to ensure appropriate information is provided to the Minister to determine whether to recommend whether the ERS should be made.

The ERS Technical Advisory Group

An ERS Technical Advisory Group (ERSTAG) supports decision-making on any revision or addition to the ERS. The ERSTAG provides independent, high quality, technical and evidence-based advice on matters relating to the ERS, for EPA. This informs EPA’s recommendations to the Minister on ERS amendments.  

Recommendations for future review of the ERS

As part of the 2019 Impact Assessment of the Proposed ERS, EPA’s Chief Environmental Scientist recommended a program of work to support future reviews of the ERS.  These are supported in principle by EPA, subject to further assessment and prioritisation. (See Environment Reference Standard,  Impact Assessment, Appendix E- attachment 2 on Regulatory Impact Statements 2019 | vic.gov.au.

Environment Reference Standard amendments made to date

Amended ambient air reference standards

The ambient air reference standards in the ERS were amended in 2022 to reflect new air quality standards for ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) following a national review.

The national review led by EPA, considered the latest health evidence. In 2021, the National Environment Protection Council agreed to strengthen the standards in the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM). 

In 2022, Victoria adopted these AAQ NEPM standards via the ERS. Victoria also adopted more stringent standards for two of the three pollutants – O3 and SO2 - given our state's projected population increase and the increase in the number of people aged 65 and over. By strengthening Victoria’s standards, we will further improve air quality and public health protection. 

The changes are consistent with the AAQ NEPM and align our national standards with recent health evidence and many international agencies.

Instrument Date made
Inaugural ERS

25 May 2021

Amended ambient air reference standards for ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) 29 March 2022

Read more about the ERS

Guide to the Environment Reference Standard (publication 1992)

Authorities that use the Environment Reference Standard

How the Environment Reference Standard applies

Unofficial consolidated version of the ERS (PDF 987KB) published by EPA for accessibility that includes the inaugural ERS and subsequent amendments.

Reviewed 17 May 2024