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The Global and Local Sustainability of the Economic Growth of China and India

Updated on July 11, 2016

The sustainability of India's economic growth is arguably much greater than that of China; China's abuses of both human rights and the environment are beginning to have a significant effect on the sustainability of its development.

The population dividend created by China's one-child policy has lead to an ageing population; China will soon have a dependency ratio too high to allow its 9% average gross domestic product (GDP) growth per year to continue.

Air pollution from a factory near the Yangtze River in China.
Air pollution from a factory near the Yangtze River in China. | Source

Meanwhile, overuse of fossil fuels on the past 50 years has lead to acid rain falling on around 30% of China's land, destroying crops and buildings. Furthermore, 70% of the country's freshwater is now polluted.

Water scarcity is already a major problem within China, with over half of the population living in the north-east, where only 15% of the freshwater is located.

On the other hand, India's population is still rapidly growing, and is set to overtake China by 2025. India's manufacturing sector has not yet reached the same scale as China's, but by placing emphasis on innovation over Chinese-style imitation, Indian entrepreneurs have a highly sustainable future in terms of economic growth.

However, China is ahead of India in terms of developing energy security; India generates more than half of its power from coal, and imports over 80% of its oil, with plans to increase its reliance on these finite fossil fuels. This leaves India vulnerable to fluctuations in global oil prices. India benefitted from cheap oil in the early 2000s, but its GDP growth rate was severely diminished by the increase of oil prices in 2008.

In contrast to this, China is focusing on building hydroelectric dams, from which it already generates 20% of its electricity, and it is the third largest user of solar panels in the world. This difference in levels of energy security could counterbalance China's ageing population and pollution problems, when the world eventually passes peak oil, and prices begin to rise more than ever.


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