Tropical ecosystems: The tropical zone of our planet is located between 15°-25° degrees north and south of the equator. Because of its warm temperatures and rainfall, it offers the best conditions for the development of various tropical ecosystems rich in biodiversity. On their own, these ecosystems contain more biodiversity than all other ecosystems on the planet combined. It is clear then that they are of enormous importance for the recovery and protection of life on planet Earth.

By A. Astorga G.

But this importance is not only linked to biodiversity. There are other ecosystem services of great importance. One of them has to do with the enormous capacity to store carbon dioxide and the production of oxygen through photosynthesis. Trees and plants generally accumulate carbon temporarily, but when they die, this carbon can be transferred to the soil where it forms an important sink that stores carbon dioxide permanently. One hectare of tropical soil can store up to 400 tonnes of carbon in a few years.

The great advantage of these areas is that due to the climatic characteristics they have, the regeneration of soils and ecosystems is very accelerated. It is possible to go from a charral to a recovering secondary forest in a short period of time (5 years on average).

Thus, tropical ecosystems are like a gigantic factory of life and biodiversity that, in addition, function as a carbon sink whose development would allow slowing down the effects of Climate Change, while slowing down the massive extinction of species that affects our planet.

Current situation: throughout the Anthropocene (since 1800 AD) and, in particular, during the last four decades, tropical ecosystems have disappeared due to changes in land use, deforestation and forest fires (intentional and natural). Their area has decreased by half and what remains is rapidly degrading, with a significant loss of biodiversity and of their capacity to store carbon dioxide. Incidentally, soils rich in organic matter are degrading and eroding, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, as well as other greenhouse gases.

Much of this environmental deterioration can be explained by the absence of land use and planning, i.e., by totally inadequate land management. Added to this is the increase in population and, above all, the increase in consumption, which produces enormous pressure on the natural resources of tropical countries.

And we are not referring to the pressure produced by the self-consumption requirements of these tropical countries, which are generally poor countries with a very high population (living on budgets of very few dollars per day) and growing (with a few exceptions such as Costa Rica), but rather to the pressure exerted by the consumption of rich countries that require agricultural and livestock products to satisfy their voracious needs due to their situation of comfort.

Pineapples, bananas, sorghum, tropical fruits, coffee and other crops, as well as premium beef, are some of the agricultural and livestock activities whose productive development requires the use of large extensions of territory that, due to the lack of territorial planning, sacrifice tropical ecosystems to establish themselves in the territories of poor tropical countries.

Thus, as the degradation of ecosystems and soils in tropical countries increases, so does poverty. There is a proportional relationship. Desertification is also associated with these problems, as is the pollution and degradation of soils, air and water sources and groundwater aquifers.

As the environment of tropical countries degrades, social problems increase and with it, a chain of social impacts of which migration to rich countries (mainly in the northern hemisphere) increases.

It is clear that, in order to change this serious trend of environmental and social deterioration, concrete actions are required, whose pyramidal base is the effective and efficient management of the territory of tropical countries.

The change that is needed: a strategic and fundamental change, which we have already written about, is the valuation and real, environmental and planetary vision that a geographical space with a natural ecosystem should have.

We are not referring to the economic value per hectare or square metre that conventional economics defines for a piece of land of this type. Generally, among many other factors of absolute anthropocentric vision and real estate use (such as access and services), these lands are punished and valued as if they were damaged because they contain a natural ecosystem.
Even when they are subject to payment for an environmental service, the amount paid per hectare is very low (around $70-$75 dollars per hectare per year in the case of Costa Rica).

Under this economic scheme, it is clear that private owners of land with natural ecosystems, with a few exceptions, will always be tempted by real estate developers who will be proposing forestry subdivisions, or by those who extract illegal timber and species of flora and fauna to cede and allow them to “take advantage” of the riches of these lands whose true treasure is the ecosystems that make them up.

This is an economic temptation to which relatively few landowners do not yield. It occurs on all types of land and in all tropical countries, generating a serious cumulative environmental effect that contributes significantly to the deterioration of the terrestrial ecosphere.

The solution then, is to give the true value that these lands have to confront the Climate Crisis, save the life of the planet and restore the balance of the terrestrial Ecosphere. It should also include those lands that have already been impacted and have the potential for regeneration and restoration of ecosystems, whose identification should come from the environmental zoning derived from land use and land planning.

Thus, as we have pointed out (see: the double strategy of trying to decarbonise the economy, combined with the recovery, protection and regeneration of soils and tropical ecosystems would multiply the possibilities of having success. To achieve this, the creation of green accounts to finance ecosystem restoration is indispensable. Without such funding, which should come mainly from the exploitation of fossil fuels, achieving the goal will be much slower or very difficult.

Multiple benefits: Investing in ecosystem restoration, protection and regeneration is the most important investment humanity has to make at this time. Far from continuing to spend huge amounts of economic resources on armaments, armies and wars, the priority should be completely different.

The benefits are enormous, from slowing down the effects of the Climate Crisis, to halting the mass extinction of species that we are already facing. But there are other social benefits too, as investment in tropical ecosystems will propel poor tropical countries towards progress and economic development. Job creation, economic development promoted by the sustainable use of resources and proper and efficient land management will lead to huge gains in these countries, causing migration to decrease or disappear altogether, as well as improving the quality of life.

The time is now. There is no time for further procrastination. Hence the importance of continuing to insist on the issue.