There are several important considerations for understanding the Australian approach to sustainable development policy, including the geography, political economy, and political system of the country. The land that comprises Australia covers a vast 7,682,000 square kilometres. There is also another one-and-a-half times that area of sea to which ecologically sustainable development could be applied. Though Australia has a low population density, with most people concentrated in a few cities and largely on the eastern coast, the current population of 18.4 million is likely to continue to grow rapidly compared to most OECD countries. The distinctive geography of an island continent with a sparse population is particularly relevant to efforts to protect biodiversity.
The idiosyncratic character of Australia's political economy (Bell and Head 1994) is another important consideration, and it has sparked controversy over greenhouse-gas emissions. The strong reliance on exporting agricultural products (4 per cent of GDP and accounting, in 1996-7, for 30 per cent of merchandise exports) is one factor. Another is that Australia exports more wool than any other country, ranks second in the export of meat and sugar, and third in the export of cotton. Australia leads all other nations in the export of coal, bauxite, alumina, lead, and titanium. These resource processing industries accounted, in 1996-7, for 44 per cent of merchandise exports, created about 8.5 per cent of national GDP and about 5 per cent of