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SYDNEY (Reuters) - If Sydney's obsession with the car continues at its current rate, by 2030 air pollution could kill one resident every four hours -- eight times the number of people killed in road accidents, its mayor said on Wednesday.
Sydney Mayor Clover Moore said Australia's biggest city was devouring its environment as urban sprawl and pollution spread and needed a long-term plan for a sustainable future.
"The predictions paint a bleak picture for Sydney in 2030 if nothing is done. The time to prepare and prevent this happening is now," Moore said in launching "Sustainable Sydney 2030."
The last long-term plan for Sydney, a city of four million, was developed in 1971, but environmental pressures demand a new urban plan, said Moore.
"Environmental imperatives alone mean that we need to rethink the way we build, operate and live in our cities. But they also present unparalleled opportunities to re-imagine our cities...," Moore said in a speech to business leaders.
"The great cities of the 21st century will protect their unique character and heritage, while setting the highest standards for new development," said Moore.
"They will accommodate greater numbers of people in better environments and...they will be economically competitive while being environmentally sustainable," she said.
Sydney's environmental footprint, the amount of land needed to support the city, is currently 49 percent of the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia's most populous state and the country's biggest state economy.
If Sydney continues its current growth it will be home to an extra 1.1 million by 2030 and its footprint will reach 95 percent of NSW by 2031. Such a footprint was "unsustainable for Sydney, for NSW and for the nation," said Moore.
Sydney is already grappling with population pressures and a lack of housing, traffic gridlock and rising waste and pollution.
Sydneysiders are amongst Australia's top consumers, disposing of 1.1 tonnes of waste per person in landfills each year, making them per-capita one of the world's worst generators of waste.
Sydney's greenhouse emissions are predicted to rise by 40 percent by 2030 without a reduction plan, said Moore.
Unnreliable public transport means 70 percent of all city trips are made in cars and just four percent by rail.
Car use is expected to double by 2030 from 2002 levels and the cost of traffic congestion, around A$18 billion (US$15 billion) in 2005, and could rise to A$28 billion by 2030, said Moore.
"Our transport systems are struggling to cope with one million people who travel around the city of Sydney each day," she said.
And despite a postcard image, Sydney's air pollution contributes to between 600 and 1,400 deaths a year.
With a doubling of car travel and container truck traffic predicted by 2030 the number of deaths caused by air pollution could rise to around 2,380 a year, or four per hour, said Moore.
She said Sydney needed to curb car travel, cut water and electricity usage and create more sustainable housing.
Her vision for Sydney involves greater use of public transport, easier access for pedestrians and cyclists, buildings that collect rain and cool themselves naturally, and stormwater used for watering parks and gardens.
"Sustainable Sydney 2030 is our chance to make a difference to Sydney's future," said Moore in calling on business, politicians and the community to develop Sydney's future plan.
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