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World’s future to be decided in Tropics

Media Releases

Sun, 15 Jun 2014
World’s future to be decided in Tropics

Half of the world’s population and 67% of the world’s children under 15 years of age will be living in the Tropics by 2050, raising serious implications for global policy makers.

Half of the world’s population and 67% of the world’s children under 15 years of age will be living in the Tropics by 2050, raising serious implications for global policy makers.

The projections are detailed in the landmark State of the Tropics report, which has been released simultaneously in Rangoon, Singapore and Australia today (June 29).

Half of these children will live in Central & Southern Africa, one of the poorest and most challenging regions on the planet, the report’s analysis of median population growth and life expectancy assumptions has shown.

The State of the Tropics report is an initiative of 12 research institutions from across the world and provides the first in-depth, impartial assessment of the Tropics as an environmental and geopolitical entity in its own right.

The project’s convener and Vice Chancellor of Australia’s James Cook University, Professor Sandra Harding, said 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.

“Because most of the world’s children will live in the Tropics by 2050, we must rethink the world’s priorities on aid, development, research and education,” she said. The State of the Tropics also includes ground-breaking analysis on the impacts of climate change, showing that while the tropical zone is expanding, the magnitude of that expansion is slower than earlier thought. (see SoT Media Release 2: Tropics Expansion)

The comprehensive report shows that the Tropics is not only changing rapidly, it is a region that has much to offer, and its influence and impact on the rest of the world is set to dramatically rise in coming decades.

The report reveals that economic growth in the Tropics has outperformed the Rest of the World over the past 30 years and is now estimated to represent 18.7% of global economic activity, up from 14.5% in 1980.

But climate change has the potential to disproportionately affect the Tropics through impacts on human and food security, renewable water availability, rising sea levels, and vector borne diseases.

The report demonstrates that nations in the Tropics have made extraordinary progress across a wide range of environmental, social and economic indicators in recent decades. It also highlights the many significant and unique challenges the region continues to face.

“There is much to learn here,” Professor Harding said. “And while this report shines a spotlight on the tropical world, its power and potential, the rest of the world is inevitably engaged, challenged and redefined by its findings as well.”

“There is much the wider world can learn from the many innovative approaches to life adopted by the various peoples in the region; approaches which have served those peoples well,” she said. “But for a variety of reasons, the Tropics have lagged behind the rest of the world. In many ways, this makes the Tropics more vulnerable to the world’s grand challenges than other regions.”

“There are great opportunities for tropical nations to work together to solve these challenges. Countries in the region are more likely to have pragmatic solutions for problems experienced elsewhere in the Tropics where similar environmental and other conditions prevail,” she said.

Professor Harding said that at a time of increasing concern about social, environmental and economic sustainability, a different approach to the Tropics was long overdue.

“It is time to recognise and acknowledge the Tropics as a region defined from within, rather than without, to embrace the wisdom and experience of its peoples and to ensure that solutions of merit deployed in one part of the Tropics can be shared elsewhere, across the Tropics and beyond.”

“We began this project to try to reframe how people see the world – the report confirms the great potential that the Tropics hold – arguably the future does belong to the Tropics,” she says.

The report provides a foundation for policy makers, geopolitical analysts and other stakeholders to examine in greater detail the Tropics and the major issues affecting it; to acknowledge the challenges and opportunities, and to embrace the chance to further develop the region in a different and a sustainable way.

But the resources to sustain larger populations and economic growth are putting huge and increasing pressures on the natural environment, and poverty is prevalent in many areas of the Tropics.

Other issues of concern include relatively poor health outcomes, with more than one billion people suffering from tropical diseases; unacceptable levels of infant mortality and reduced life expectancy; extreme poverty; poor educational outcomes; environmental degradation; and, in some cases, political and economic instability.