As the western world is gripped by the ravages of double dip recessions, western governments look to the East with envy at the economic growth rates being achieved.  China’s GDP in the first quarter of 2012 was 10,799.5 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 8.1%. From 1978 to 2010, average annual GDP growth rates in China were 9.8%, the highest in the world during the period. After more than 30 years of development, China can be called a modern economic miracle.

What the economic figures mask, however, is the environmental effects of long-term economic growth. According to a 2007 report produced by the World Bank and Chinese government, up to 400,000 Chinese die prematurely every year because of air pollution. The concentration of particles in the air that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers, the size at which they can penetrate the lungs, is on average 10 times higher in Beijing than in New York. Indeed, sixteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China, according to previous World Bank research.

The air in Chinese cities is getting worse, and animations of China’s Air Pollution on the Atlantic news site show just how severe the problem has become. Further details and comparisons of pollution in major world cities can be found on the China Air Daily site.

During the past 30 years, China’s economy has changed from a centrally planned system that was largely closed to international trade to a more market-oriented with a rapidly growing private sector. A major component supporting China’s rapid economic growth has been exports growth. However, China’s trade growth plunged in June, hurt by weak U.S. and European demand and a Chinese slowdown, with a potential impact on economies as far-flung as Africa and Australia. China’s economy appears to be weakening more rapidly than official statistics would suggest, raising fears of a painful slowdown that could be felt around the globe. Chinese second-quarter gross domestic product statistics to be released this week are expected to show growth of around 7.5% compared with the same period last year, according to analysts’ estimates. That would be the slowest pace since the depths of the global financial crisis and government data are widely believed to understate the extent of China’s woes.

Global patterns are shifting from unipolar to multipolar, from unilateral to multilateral. Economies of every shape and size rely on one other, with complicated and interest-driven relationships. For example, in 2009, China replaced the U.S. as Brazil’s largest trading partner.

The BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China are all deemed to be at a similar stage of newly advanced economic development and destined for fast economic growth, with economists predicting that BRIC economies will overtake G7 economies by 2027. However, being cast as a BRIC economy appears to have led to a bubble of complacency and a worrying sign that recession is a global phenomenon is the fall in the contribution to world GDP of the BRIC countries, which are widely considered the driving force behind global growth. Economic growth in Brazil, India and China slowed in the past quarter. India’s economic bubble is now being popped rather brutally. Growth in India was 5.3% in the three months to March – worse than the 6% expected, below the prior quarter and way below the close-to-double digit rates that were meant to be preordained and propel India to economic super-power status. The other BRICs have slowed too, but India’s GDP figures, the worst for at least nine years, will have a deep impact on the sub-continent.

Environmental campaigners will see recent economic data as a positive factor, reducing the negative externalities of economic growth.


Economist: World GDP

Economist: The no-growth zone

The Atlantic

China Air Daily