“Because of COVID, we have almost forgotten how serious an impact the bushfires had on our global reputation,” he said. “This is not a distant and abstract threat.”
The Benchmarking Sydney report said the city’s performance on sustainability had declined over the past three years but 2020 stood out as a year when the threats had “really become exposed”.
Despite this, the report found liveability remained a long-standing advantage and selling point for Sydney, which tops the global charts for its low violent crime rate, more tolerable work-life balance, and access to the scenic outdoors, relative to other cities.
Sydney had also gained credit on the global stage as a major world city that embodies safety or resilience due to the handling of the pandemic.
The state government’s multi-billion-dollar investment in public transport, which includes the construction of metro rail lines, is also helping Sydney close the gap with its global peers.
Over the past 18 months, more public transport construction – including the Metro Northwest rail line between Rouse Hill and Chatswood – was completed in Sydney than any other major city.
Sydney ranks third in the world, after Paris and Tel Aviv, for the amount of public transport set to be rolled out between 2019 and 2025, according to the report.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the opening of the City and Southwest metro rail line between Chatswood and Bankstown in late 2023 would be a game changer for Sydney.
“That will be the one that people really, really notice. That will take it to the next level,” he said.
Mr Constance said public transport also had a major role to play in mitigating carbon emissions, adding that he was “fed up with the expended energy” on debating climate change.
He described last summer’s bushfires as a global climatic event, adding that “we have to do everything we can to ensure we don’t see anything like that again”.
“I think the wider community is saying, ‘act’,” he said, noting that the state governments could have a greater impact on reducing emissions than the Commonwealth.
Mr Waterford said the scale of investment in public transport was what was needed to ensure Sydney was easy to travel around and attracted people from around the world.
“The government cannot take its foot off the gas, and we have to invest at this level for the foreseeable future. Despite the fact that we are beating the world on the delivery of public transport, we still rate poorly because it takes time to deliver this kind of infrastructure,” he said.
The cost of living is also viewed to be more expensive in Sydney than in many other global cities, which the report blamed largely on housing affordability. The city had the third most unaffordable housing market in the English-speaking world when the COVID-19 pandemic hit early this year.
Matt O’Sullivan is City Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.