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Economic development

GDP per capita (US$1995/year), with service sector share: North America

GDP per capita grew strongly in North America over the past three decades, with the service sector share of the economy growing from 63 to 72 per cent during the period 1972-1997

Source: World Bank 2000

Since 1972, North America has experienced greater regional integration, increased economic activity and a gradual shift towards the service sector. Some North American companies have become truly transnational and have invested heavily in emerging economies, significantly influencing development patterns elsewhere. Despite periodic setbacks over the past 30 years, North America has strengthened its role as an engine of global economic change (Blank 2001). Concerns about the vulnerability of the energy sector largely vanished as the 1973 and 1979 oil crises were followed by economic restructuring and the growth of the service sector (see graph). With the conclusion of a free trade agreement and the emergence of information and biotechnologies, many regional North American economies soared through most of the 1990s and then collapsed in 2000, shaking the stock markets.

In 2001, it was estimated that the 285 million people (including 135 million workers) of the United States produced about US$10 000 billion in GDP; the 31 million people (including 15 million workers) of Canada about US$670 billion in GDP (US Department of Commerce 2002, US Census Bureau 2002, US Department of Labor 2002, Statistics Canada 2002).

North America not only leads the world in economic output but also consumes the most. Private consumption per capita in the region is about five times the global average, and grew from US$11 461 in 1972 to US$18 167 in 1997, compared to a global average of US$2 315 in 1972 and US$3 257 in 1997 (World Bank 2001, all figures expressed in constant US$1995).

Although representing only around 5 per cent of the global population, the United States and Canada consume nearly 25 per cent of total energy (IEA 2002). While there is evidence of a slight decoupling of energy use and economic growth, per capita energy use has remained consistently higher than in any other of the world's regions (Mathews and Hammond 1999). Use of private vehicles continues to increase, whereas use of public transportation has generally remained constant (see 'Urban areas').