The Expanding Tropics

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FLORENCE, South Carolina– The State of the Tropics’ report has revealed that half of the world’s population will reside in the tropics by 2050. The combination of rapid population and economic growth has led to the region’s growing influence, which is expected to expand further in the next few decades.

Spanning 500 pages, the report provides a detailed assessment of the tropics, referring to it as an “environmental and geopolitical entity in its own right.” Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi introduced the report in Rangoon. Global experts in Singapore, Cairns, and Townsville have responded.

The three-year project is the collaborative effort of 12 research institutions from across the world: Escuela Superior Politiecnica Del Litorial (Ecuador), Mahidol University (Thailand), National Institute of Amazonian Research (Brazil), James Cook University (Australia), Liverpool School of Medicine (England), Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), National University of Singapore, Organization for Tropical Studies (Costa Rica), University of Hawaii (United States of America), University of Nairobi (Kenya), University of Papua New Guinea and University of the South Pacific (Fiji).

The tropics, situated between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south, covers around 130 countries and territories around the equator – including Papua New Guinea, Central and Southern Africa, Northern Africa and the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Oceania. From an economic standpoint, the tropics have done better than the rest of the world over the past three decades; around 18.7 percent of global economic activity is now attributed to the region.

As a result of climate change, tropical conditions are expanding towards the poles, though at a slower rate than previously reported. In an attempt to stay within their ideal habitats, many plant and animal species will move in the same direction. However, some organisms will find it difficult to keep up with the changing environmental conditions – the authors believe that they will lag about 100 kilometers (62 miles) behind predicted climate shifts. Species may experience population declines or go extinct as a result.

Additionally, climate change could further influence a variety of spheres in the growing topics: human and food security, renewable water availability, rising sea levels and vector borne diseases. Health and safety issues are particularly troubling. The region will become more habitable for mosquitoes and ticks, which may lead to an increase in insect-borne diseases, like malaria, dengue and Lyme disease, consequently putting a strain on the economy and public health. Tropical cyclones will likely become more frequent in the tropics as well.

Sandra Harding, project convener and Vice Chancellor of James Cook University, believes that the conclusion of the report should affect future global policies. “The tropical population is expected to exceed that of the rest of the world in the late 2030s, confirming just how crucial the tropics are to the world’s future. We must rethink the world’s priorities on aid, development, research and education.” The predicted risks of the growing tropics have heightened concerns over the future of biodiversity and socioeconomic progress.

Kristy Liao

Sources: AAAS, Channel News Asia, SBS, State of the Tropics
Photo: Channel News Asia

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