Report predicts grim future for city out of balance with nature

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am


Sydneysiders are in love with their cars. For millions of people living in the outer suburbs, it is the only way to get to work.

But it is an infatuation for which the city is paying a high price. If the rate of car use increases at the present level, air pollution could get so bad within 20 years that it will kill one inhabitant every four hours.

That is eight times the number of people likely to die in road accidents. And it is just one of the apocalyptic warnings contained in a report released yesterday by Mayor Clover Moore. The report paints a grim picture of what the city will be like in 2030 if nothing is done to address congestion, pollution, water shortages and power consumption.

Take the city's ecological footprint, for instance - the area of land required to produce the stuff Sydney consumes and to dispose of the stuff it throws away.

At the moment the footprint covers the equivalent of nearly 50 per cent of New South Wales state.

By 2030, when the city's population is likely to have grown by 1 million, the footprint is expected to have risen to 95 per cent of the state.

'These projections paint a disturbing image of where Sydney could be in 2030 if we don't ask the big questions now and seek innovative and environmentally sustainable solutions,' Ms Moore said.

The report, Sustainable Sydney 2030, predicts that within two decades car use will double from 2002 levels.

Electricity consumption is likely to grow by a fifth, and greenhouse gas emissions could almost double.

It is scary stuff, but the mayor's message is that this grim outlook can be avoided if action is taken now. 'We now have the duty and opportunity to think - and act - boldly for the benefit of future generations,' Ms Moore said.

She sees a future with efficient public transport, rain tanks in back gardens, water recycling, bike paths and naturally cooled buildings that do not guzzle electricity for air conditioning. Sustainable Sydney 2030 is touted as 'a landmark project', but at the moment all it amounts to is a series of community forums and round-table talks planned for the next few months. So is it just an empty talkfest?

'I don't think so,' said Leigh Martin of the Total Environment Centre. 'It's true that a lot of the decisions which will affect Sydney's development are the province of the state government. But the council can act as an agent in driving reform and public discussion.'

Mr Martin is a brave man - he would like to see a London-style congestion charge introduced, an idea that could get him lynched. But he insists it is feasible if people are offered viable public transport.

'People already pay tolls to use roads, so they are used to the idea,' he said. 'The main barrier is the cautiousness of our politicians.' That, and the fact that decades of neglect have produced a creaking train system which is notorious for breakdowns and delays.

Australia has grown rich from selling billions of dollars' worth of resources to China. It might be prudent to invest a fraction of that wealth in the sustainability of the country's biggest city.