Global Economy Inches Upward as Environmental and Social Concerns Mount

Global Economy Inches Upward as Environmental and Social Concerns Mount


The global economy grew at 4.49 percent in 2013, and the gross world product reached $87 trillion.1 For the fourth year in a row, the growth rate was slower than during the preceding year.2 Growth was affected by numerous adjustments in macroeconomic policies, by high unemployment rates, and by weak aggregate demand in the majority of the industrial economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).3 By contrast, emerging and developing markets continued to experience higher growth rates due to supportive policies. In fact, in 2013 emerging markets accounted for 50 percent of total global growth.4 (See Figure 1.)

Global Economy Figure 1

Economic prosperity is often reduced to the lens of growth in gross domestic product (GDP). This is considered the most widely applicable metric for gauging progress and well-being. The gross world product is the sum of the GDPs of all countries. This typically includes levels of consumption, investment, government spending, the cost of imports, and the proceeds from exports.5 Because of various transaction costs, floating exchange rates, and barriers such as tariffs, economists apply a metric to put purchasing power for countries on an even footing. This metric, applied to the figures in this article, is called the purchasing power parity exchange rate.6

The International Monetary Fund forecasts growth among developing economies to rise from 4.7 percent in 2013 to 5 percent in 2014 and then to 5.25 percent in 2015.7 This growth can be traced to the rise of an affluent middle class and a rapid migration of young workers to cities, which encourages more business investment in developing countries.8 According to the United Nations, Asia and other emerging economies will account for two thirds of the approximately 370 million people who will have moved to cities by 2015.9

Wind, Solar Generation Capacity Catching Up with Nuclear Power

Wind, Solar Generation Capacity Catching Up with Nuclear Power

Michael Renner | Sep 30, 2014


Advocates of nuclear energy have long been predicting a renaissance, yet this mode of producing electricity has been stalled for years.Renewable energy, by contrast, continues to expand rapidly, even if it still has a long way to go to catch up with fossil fuel power plants, which account for roughly two thirds of world electricity production.2

Nuclear’s share of global power production has declined steadily from a peak of 17.6 percent in 1996 to 10.8 percent in 2013.3 Renewables increased their share from 18.7 percent in 2000 to 22.7 percent in 2012.4  Hydropower was the leading source of renewable electricity (16.5 percent of global power in 2012), while wind contributed 3.4 percent and solar, 0.6 percent.5  But wind and solar energy are the fastest growing electricity technologies worldwide. Between 2000 and 2012, wind power grew nearly 16-fold and solar jumped 49-fold.6

From its beginnings in the mid-1950s, global nuclear power generating capacity rose rapidly and reached 298 gigawatts (GW) in 1987, an average annual growth of 9.3 percent.7  In the following 23 years, however, only 77 GW of capacity were added to reach 375.3 GW, at a rate of 3.4 percent per year.8 From this 2010 peak, capacity declined to 371.8 GW in 2013, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).9 Adverse economics, concern about reactor safety and proliferation, and the unresolved question of what to do with nuclear waste have put the brakes on the industry.

Nuclear Renewable Figure 1

Passenger and Freight Rail Trends Mixed, High-Speed Rail Growing

Passenger and Freight Rail Trends Mixed, High-Speed Rail Growing

Michael Renner | Sep 02, 2014


According to the International Union of Railways (the UIC—from its name in French, the Union Internationale des Chemins de Fer), people traveled an estimated 2,865 billion passenger-kilometers (pkm) worldwide in 2013 by intercity rail.1 The 2013 value is virtually unchanged from 2012 and confirms a slowing down since 2008.2 From 1980 to 2008, passenger rail travel rose from 1,413 billion pkm to 2,687 billion pkm—3.2 percent per year—but from 2008 to 2013 the annual pace slowed to 1.3 percent.3 (See Figure 1.)

Rail Figure 1

Freight rail movements worldwide amounted to some 9,789 billion ton-kilometers (tkm) in 2013.4 Freight rail expanded by 4.8 percent annually between 2000 and 2008.5 Reflecting the impacts of the economic crisis, however, the 2013 figure is down about 4 percent from the peak value of 10,208 billion tkm reached in 2008.6 (See Figure 2.)

Rail Figure 2

Even though more people and goods travel by rail, the length of the world’s railway lines has not expanded nearly as much. UIC data indicate a total length for passenger and freight lines of 909,000 kilometers in 2000.7 Growth during 2000–05 led the world’s rail network to peak at 1.03 million kilometers.8 Since then, however, the numbers have been flat.9

The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization known around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Learn More

Syndicate content