Globally, the 20th century was marked by: (a) two devastating world wars; (b) the Great Depression of the 1930s; (c) the end of vast colonial empires; (d) rapid advances in science and technology, from the first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (US) to the landing on the moon; (e) the Cold War between the Western alliance and the Warsaw Pact nations; (f) a sharp rise in living standards in North America, Europe, and Japan; (g) increased concerns about environmental degradation including deforestation, energy and water shortages, declining biological diversity, and air pollution; (h) the onset of the AIDS epidemic; and (i) the ultimate emergence of the US as the only world superpower. The planet's population continues to explode: from 1 billion in 1820 to 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, and 7 billion in 2012. For the 21st century, the continued exponential growth in science and technology raises both hopes (e.g., advances in medicine and agriculture) and fears (e.g., development of even more lethal weapons of war).



510,072,000 sq km
148,940,000 sq km
361,132,000 sq km


356,000 km


a wide equatorial band of hot and humid tropical climates, bordered north and south by subtropical temperate zones that separate two large areas of cold and dry polar climates Ten Driest Places on Earth (Average Annual Precipitation): McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica 0 mm (0 in) Arica, Chile 0.76 mm (0.03 in) Al Kufrah, Libya 0.86 mm (0.03 in) Aswan, Egypt 0.86 mm (0.03 in) Luxor, Egypt 0.86 mm (0.03 in) Ica, Peru 2.29 mm (0.09 in) Wadi Halfa, Sudan 2.45 mm (0.1 in) Iquique, Chile 5.08 mm (0.2 in) Pelican Point, Namibia 8.13 mm (0.32 in) El Arab (Aoulef), Algeria 12.19 mm (0.48 in) Ten Wettest Places on Earth (Average Annual Precipitation): Mawsynram, India 11,871 mm (467.4 in) Cherrapunji, India 11,777 mm (463.7 in) Tutunendo, Colombia 11,770 mm (463.4 in) Cropp River, New Zealand 11,516 mm (453.4 in) San Antonia de Ureca, Equatorial Guinea 10,450 mm (411.4 in) Debundsha, Cameroon 10,299 mm (405.5 in) Big Bog, US (Hawaii) 10,272 mm (404.4 in) Mt Waialeale, US (Hawaii) 9,763 mm (384.4 in) Kukui, US (Hawaii) 9,293 mm (365.9 in) Emeishan, China 8,169 mm (321.6 in) Ten Coldest Places on Earth (Lowest Average Monthly Temperature): Verkhoyansk, Russia (Siberia) -47°C (-53°F) January Oymyakon, Russia (Siberia) -46°C (-52°F) January Eureka, Canada -38.4°C (-37.1°F) February Isachsen, Canada -36°C (-32.8°F) February Alert, Canada -34°C (-28°F) February Kap Morris Jesup, Greenland -34°C (-29°F) March Cornwallis Island, Canada -33.5°C (-28.3°F) February Cambridge Bay, Canada -33.5°C (28.3°F) February Ilirnej, Russia -33°C (-28°F) January Resolute, Canada -33°C (-27.4°F) February Ten Hottest Places on Earth (Highest Average Monthly Temperature): Death Valley, US (California) 39°C (101°F) July Iranshahr, Iran 38.3°C (100.9°F) June Ouallene, Algeria 38°C (100.4°F) July Kuwait City, Kuwait 37.7°C (100°F) July Medina, Saudi Arabia 36°C (97°F) July Buckeye, US (Arizona) 34°C (93°F) July Jazan, Saudi Arabia 33°C (91°F) June Al Kufrah, Libya 31°C (87°F) July Alice Springs, Australia 29°C (84°F) January Tamanrasset, Algeria 29°C (84°F) June


tremendous variation of terrain on each of the continents; check the World 'Elevation' entry for a compilation of terrain extremes; the world's ocean floors are marked by mid-ocean ridges while the ocean surfaces form a dynamic, continuously changing environment; check the 'Terrain' field and its 'major surface currents' subfield under each of the five ocean (Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and Southern) entries for further information on oceanic environs Ten Cave Superlatives: compiled from "Geography - note(s)" under various country entries where more details may be found largest cave: Son Doong in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam is the world's largest cave (greatest cross sectional area) and is the largest known cave passage in the world by volume; it currently measures a total of 38.5 million cu m (about 1.35 billion cu ft); it connects to Thung cave (but not yet officially); when recognized, it will add an additional 1.6 million cu m in volume largest ice cave: the Eisriesenwelt (Ice Giants World) inside the Hochkogel mountain near Werfen, Austria is the world's largest and longest ice cave system at 42 km (26 mi) longest cave: Mammoth Cave, in west-central Kentucky, is the world's longest known cave system with more than 650 km (405 mi) of surveyed passageways longest salt cave: the Malham Cave in Mount Sodom in Israel is the world's longest salt cave at 10 km (6 mi); its survey is not complete and its length will undoubtedly increase longest underwater cave: the Sac Actun cave system in Mexico at 348 km (216 mi) is the longest underwater cave in the world and the second longest cave worldwide longest lava tube cave: Kazumura Cave on the island of Hawaii is the world's longest and deepest lava tube cave; it has been surveyed at 66 km (41 mi) long and 1,102 m (3,614 ft) deep deepest cave: Veryovkina Cave in the Caucasus country of Georgia is the world's deepest cave, plunging down 2,212 m (7,257 ft) deepest underwater cave: the Hranice Abyss in Czechia is the world's deepest surveyed underwater cave at 404 m (1,325 ft); its survey is not complete and it could end up being some 800-1,200 m deep largest cave chamber: the Miao Room in the Gebihe cave system at China's Ziyun Getu He Chuandong National Park encloses some 10.78 million cu m (380.7 million cu ft) of volume largest bat cave: Bracken Cave outside of San Antonio, Texas is the world's largest bat cave; it is the summer home to the largest colony of bats in the world; an estimated 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats roost in the cave from March to October making it the world's largest known concentration of mammals


840 m
lowest point
Denman Glacier (Antarctica) more than
-3,500 m
highest point
Mount Everest
8,848 m

population distribution

six of the world's seven continents are widely and permanently inhabited; Asia is easily the most populous continent with about 60% of the world's population (China and India together account for over 35%); Africa comes in second with over 15% of the earth's populace, Europe has about 10%, North America 8%, South America almost 6%, and Oceania less than 1%; the harsh conditions on Antarctica prevent any permanent habitation



  • 7,684,292,383
  • global rank


  • most-spoken language: English
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Hindi
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Arabic
  • Bengali
  • Russian
  • Portuguese
  • Indonesian


31.2 %
24.1 %
15.1 %
6.9 %
folk religions
5.7 %
0.2 %
0.8 %
16 %

birth rate

  • 18.1
    per 1,000 population
  • global rank

death rate

  • 7.7
    per 1,000 population
  • global rank

urban population

56.2 %

major urban areas

  • Ten Largest Urban Agglomerations: Tokyo -
    pop. 37,393,000
  • New Delhi -
    pop. 30,291,000
  • Shanghai -
    pop. 27,058,000
  • Sao Paulo -
    pop. 22,043,000
  • Mexico City -
    pop. 21,782,000
  • Dhaka -
    pop. 21,006,000
  • Cairo -
    pop. 20,901,000
  • Beijing -
    pop. 20,463,000
  • Mumbai -
    pop. 20,411,000
  • Osaka - Ten Largest Urban Agglomerations
    pop. 19,165,000
  • By Continent: Africa - Cairo -
    pop. 20,485,000
  • Lagos -
    pop. 13,904,000
  • Kinshasha -
    pop. 13,743,000
  • Luanda -
    pop. 8,045,000
  • Dar Es Salaam -
    pop. 6,368,000
  • Khartoum -
    pop. 5,678,000
  • Johannesburg -
    pop. 5,635,000
  • Alexandria -
    pop. 5,182,000
  • Abidjan -
    pop. 5,059,000
  • Addis Ababa - Asia - Tokyo -
    pop. 37,435,000
  • New Delhi -
    pop. 29,399,000
  • Shanghai -
    pop. 26,317,000
  • Dhaka -
    pop. 20,284,000
  • Mumbai -
    pop. 20,185,000
  • Beijing -
    pop. 20,035,000
  • Osaka -
    pop. 19,223,000
  • Karachi -
    pop. 15,741,000
  • Chongqing -
    pop. 15,354,000
  • Istanbul - Europe - Moscow -
    pop. 12,476,000
  • Paris -
    pop. 10,958,000
  • London -
    pop. 9,177,000
  • Madrid -
    pop. 6,559,000
  • Barcelona -
    pop. 5,541,000
  • Saint Petersburg -
    pop. 5,427,000
  • Rome -
    pop. 4,234,000
  • Berlin -
    pop. 3,557,000
  • Athens -
    pop. 3,154,000
  • Milan - North America - Mexico City -
    pop. 21,672,000
  • New York-Newark -
    pop. 18,805,000
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana -
    pop. 12,448,000
  • Chicago -
    pop. 8,862,000
  • Houston -
    pop. 6,245,000
  • Dallas-Fort Worth -
    pop. 6,201,000
  • Toronto -
    pop. 6,139,000
  • Miami -
    pop. 6,079,000
  • Philadelphia -
    pop. 5,705,000
  • Atlanta - Oceania - Melbourne -
    pop. 4,870,000
  • Sydney -
    pop. 4,859,000
  • Brisbane -
    pop. 2,372,000
  • Perth -
    pop. 2,016,000
  • Auckland -
    pop. 1,582,000
  • Adelaide -
    pop. 1,328,000
  • Gold Coast-Tweed Head -
    pop. 687,000
  • Canberra -
    pop. 452,000
  • Newcastle-Maitland -
    pop. 447,000
  • Wellington - South America - Sao Paulo -
    pop. 21,847,000
  • Buenos Aires -
    pop. 15,057,000
  • Rio De Janeiro -
    pop. 13,374,000
  • Bogota -
    pop. 10,779,000
  • Lima -
    pop. 10,555,000
  • Santiago -
    pop. 6,724,000
  • Belo Horizonte -
    pop. 6,028,000
  • Brasilia -
    pop. 4,559,000
  • Porto Alegre -
    pop. 4,115,000
  • Recife -
    pop. 4,078,000

life expectancy

  • 70.5
    total population
  • global rank


legal system

the legal systems of nearly all countries are generally modeled upon elements of five main types: civil law (including French law, the Napoleonic Code, Roman law, Roman-Dutch law, and Spanish law); common law (including English and US law); customary law; mixed or pluralistic law; and religious law (including Islamic sharia law); an additional type of legal system - international law - governs the conduct of independent nations in their relationships with one another

flag description

while a "World" flag does not exist, the flag of the United Nations (UN) - adopted on 7 December 1946 - has been used on occasion to represent the entire planet; technically, however, it only represents the international organization itself; the flag displays the official emblem of the UN in white on a blue background; the emblem design shows a map of the world in an azimuthal equidistant projection centered on the North Pole, the image is flanked by two olive branches crossed below; blue was selected as the color to represent peace, in contrast to red usually associated with war; the map projection chosen includes all of the continents except Antarctica



The international financial crisis of 2008-09 led to the first downturn in global output since 1946 and presented the world with a major new challenge: determining what mix of fiscal and monetary policies to follow to restore growth and jobs, while keeping inflation and debt under control. Financial stabilization and stimulus programs that started in 2009-11, combined with lower tax revenues in 2009-10, required most countries to run large budget deficits. Treasuries issued new public debt - totaling $9.1 trillion since 2008 - to pay for the additional expenditures. To keep interest rates low, most central banks monetized that debt, injecting large sums of money into their economies - between December 2008 and December 2013 the global money supply increased by more than 35%. Governments are now faced with the difficult task of spurring current growth and employment without saddling their economies with so much debt that they sacrifice long-term growth and financial stability. When economic activity picks up, central banks will confront the difficult task of containing inflation without raising interest rates so high they snuff out further growth. Fiscal and monetary data for 2013 are currently available for 180 countries, which together account for 98.5% of world GDP. Of the 180 countries, 82 pursued unequivocally expansionary policies, boosting government spending while also expanding their money supply relatively rapidly - faster than the world average of 3.1%; 28 followed restrictive fiscal and monetary policies, reducing government spending and holding money growth to less than the 3.1% average; and the remaining 70 followed a mix of counterbalancing fiscal and monetary policies, either reducing government spending while accelerating money growth, or boosting spending while curtailing money growth. (For more information, see attached spreadsheet.) In 2013, for many countries the drive for fiscal austerity that began in 2011 abated. While 5 out of 6 countries slowed spending in 2012, only 1 in 2 countries slowed spending in 2013. About 1 in 3 countries actually lowered the level of their expenditures. The global growth rate for government expenditures increased from 1.6% in 2012 to 5.1% in 2013, after falling from a 10.1% growth rate in 2011. On the other hand, nearly 2 out of 3 central banks tightened monetary policy in 2013, decelerating the rate of growth of their money supply, compared with only 1 out of 3 in 2012. Roughly 1 of 4 central banks actually withdrew money from circulation, an increase from 1 out of 7 in 2012. Growth of the global money supply, as measured by the narrowly defined M1, slowed from 8.7% in 2009 and 10.4% in 2010 to 5.2% in 2011, 4.6% in 2012, and 3.1% in 2013. Several notable shifts occurred in 2013. By cutting government expenditures and expanding money supplies, the US and Canada moved against the trend in the rest of the world. France reversed course completely. Rather than reducing expenditures and money as it had in 2012, it expanded both. Germany reversed its fiscal policy, sharply expanding federal spending, while continuing to grow the money supply. South Korea shifted monetary policy into high gear, while maintaining a strongly expansionary fiscal policy. Japan, however, continued to pursue austere fiscal and monetary policies. Austere economic policies have significantly affected economic performance. The global budget deficit narrowed to roughly $2.7 trillion in 2012 and $2.1 trillion in 2013, or 3.8% and 2.5% of World GDP, respectively. But growth of the world economy slipped from 5.1% in 2010 and 3.7% in 2011, to just 3.1% in 2012, and 2.9% in 2013. Countries with expansionary fiscal and monetary policies achieved significantly higher rates of growth, higher growth of tax revenues, and greater success reducing the public debt burden than those countries that chose contractionary policies. In 2013, the 82 countries that followed a pro-growth approach achieved a median GDP growth rate of 4.7%, compared to 1.7% for the 28 countries with restrictive fiscal and monetary policies, a difference of 3 percentage points. Among the 82, China grew 7.7%, Philippines 6.8%, Malaysia 4.7%, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia 3.6%, Argentina 3.5%, South Korea 2.8%, and Russia 1.3%, while among the 28, Brazil grew 2.3%, Japan 2.0%, South Africa 2.0%, Netherlands -0.8%, Croatia -1.0%, Iran -1.5%, Portugal -1.8%, Greece -3.8%, and Cyprus -8.7%. Faster GDP growth and lower unemployment rates translated into increased tax revenues and a less cumbersome debt burden. Revenues for the 82 expansionary countries grew at a median rate of 10.7%, whereas tax revenues fell at a median rate of 6.8% for the 28 countries that chose austere economic policies. Budget balances improved for about three-quarters of the 28, but, for most, debt grew faster than GDP, and the median level of their public debt as a share of GDP increased 9.1 percentage points, to 59.2%. On the other hand, budget balances deteriorated for most of the 82 pro-growth countries, but GDP growth outpaced increases in debt, and the median level of public debt as a share of GDP increased just 1.9%, to 39.8%. The world recession has suppressed inflation rates - world inflation declined 1.0 percentage point in 2012 to about 4.1% and 0.2 percentage point to 3.9% in 2013. In 2013 the median inflation rate for the 82 pro-growth countries was 1.3 percentage points higher than that for the countries that followed more austere fiscal and monetary policies. Overall, the latter countries also improved their current account balances by shedding imports; as a result, current account balances deteriorated for most of the countries that pursued pro-growth policies. Slow growth of world income continued to hold import demand in check and crude oil prices fell. Consequently, the dollar value of world trade grew just 1.3% in 2013. Beyond the current global slowdown, the world faces several long standing economic challenges. The addition of 80 million people each year to an already overcrowded globe is exacerbating the problems of pollution, waste-disposal, epidemics, water-shortages, famine, over-fishing of oceans, deforestation, desertification, and depletion of non-renewable resources. The nation-state, as a bedrock economic-political institution, is steadily losing control over international flows of people, goods, services, funds, and technology. The introduction of the euro as the common currency of much of Western Europe in January 1999, while paving the way for an integrated economic powerhouse, has created economic risks because the participating nations have varying income levels and growth rates, and hence, require a different mix of monetary and fiscal policies. Governments, especially in Western Europe, face the difficult political problem of channeling resources away from welfare programs in order to increase investment and strengthen incentives to seek employment. Because of their own internal problems and priorities, the industrialized countries are unable to devote sufficient resources to deal effectively with the poorer areas of the world, which, at least from an economic point of view, are becoming further marginalized. The terrorist attacks on the US on 11 September 2001 accentuated a growing risk to global prosperity - the diversion of resources away from capital investments to counter-terrorism programs. Despite these vexing problems, the world economy also shows great promise. Technology has made possible further advances in a wide range of fields, from agriculture, to medicine, alternative energy, metallurgy, and transportation. Improved global communications have greatly reduced the costs of international trade, helping the world gain from the international division of labor, raise living standards, and reduce income disparities among nations. Much of the resilience of the world economy in the aftermath of the financial crisis resulted from government and central bank leaders around the globe working in concert to stem the financial onslaught, knowing well the lessons of past economic failures. Fiscal and Monetary Data, 2008-2012: Spreadsheet


127,800,000,000,000 USD


  • 21,680,000,000,000
    revenue (USD)
  • 23,810,000,000,000
    expenditures (USD)



    fixed lines

  • 984,289,950
    total subscriptions
  • global rank

    mobile cellular

  • 7,806,142,681
    total subscriptions
  • global rank


country code


  • 4,099,999,999.9,999,995
  • 53.9
    % of population
  • global rank


electricity access



air transport


  • 41820
  • paved


1,148,186 km
total length


64,285,009 km
total length


2,293,412 km
total length



expenditures here