About the Environment Reference Standard

The Environment Reference Standard (ERS) (PDF 987KB) is a new tool made under the Environment Protection Act 2017. 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 other living things.

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 that 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.

Amendments to the Environment Reference Standard

The ERS will be amended from time-to-time by the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister.

For accessibility, EPA publishes an unofficial consolidated version of the ERS (PDF 987KB) that includes the inaugural ERS and subsequent amendments.

Amended ambient air reference standards

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

Led by EPA, this  review 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). 

Victoria has also adopted more stringent standards for two of the three pollutants – O3 and SO- 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. 
Amended air reference standards in the ERS:

  • 1-hour averaging period objective for NOof 80 parts per billion (ppb)
  • 1-year averaging period objective for NO2 of 15 ppb
  • 1-day averaging period objective for SO2 of 20 ppb
  • 8-hour averaging period objective for O3 of 60 ppb (which is a more stringent standard than the 65 ppb standard in the AAQ NEPM)
  • 1-hour averaging period objective for SO2 of 75 ppb (which is a more stringent standard than the AAQ NEPM 100 ppb objective, which decreases to 75 ppb from 2025).

The reference standards for 1-year SO2 and 1-hour and 4-hour O3 averaging periods have also been removed. These 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

Reviewed 30 March 2022