In early 2011 a group of leading research institutions with an interest in tropical issues united to examine the condition of life in the Tropics. The group met in Singapore in mid-2011 to scope a project that would draw on shared expertise to report trends across a broad range of environmental, social and economic indicators. The intent was to shed light on a simple question:

Is life in the tropics getting better?

The State of the Tropics Report analyses a range of environmental, social and economic indicators to answer this question. The analysis shines a bright light on a variety of key issues and provides a foundation for policy makers, geopolitical analysts and other stakeholders to examine in greater detail the tropics and the major issues affecting it.

Given these multiple dimensions, answers to the fundamental question are likely to be positive for some aspects, and negative for others. Furthermore, people hold different values and what is viewed as progress by some will be seen as regress by others. That is, the concept of progress is influenced by an individual’s perspective. The Report identifies major challenges for the Zone, recognising that it is important the focus is not too negative, and includes a discussion of opportunities.

State of the Tropics is a dispassionate, statistical analysis of a range of statistical indicators that reveal trends and areas where progress is being made or lost. Data is gathered from existing collections from authoritative sources; there is no new data collection.

For completeness, the Report examines issues that bind the different parts of the Zone together. Geography is clearly one element in common, and another is climate. Consequently, climate and climate change and its economic, social and environmental impacts are examined.

A five yearly State of the Tropics report will be published, and will be supplemented by an annual State of the Tropics paper focusing on a key issue in the tropical world.

For universities and research institutions focused on the tropics, this is our place, and we share a responsibility to work with and for the people of the tropics, to bring to bear the power of our understanding, science and innovation on the issues of the tropics to create a brighter future for the tropics and its peoples. This is the main rationale for producing the State of the Tropics Report.

This is our place, and we share a responsibility to work with and for the people of the tropics

Defining the tropics

More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle described the world as being divided into three zones – the Frigid Zone, theTemperate Zone and the Torrid Zone – deeming that all humans could only live and work productively in the temperate zone.

Following Aristotle, for much of Western history the Tropics has been viewed as a place of pestilence and, from time to time, as a place of paradise, but rarely has it been considered on its own terms. While Aristotle’s negative view of the Tropics was misguided, modern approaches to understanding the world – as east/ west, north/ south and developed/ developing – have papered over Aristotle’s critically important insight about the lateral nature of the world. While there is great diversity across the nations and peoples of the Tropics, climate and geography mean they share many challenges and opportunities.

The Tropics is commonly defined as the region of the Earth surrounding the Equator within the latitudes of the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn at +/– 23.5 degrees. With its origins in astronomy, these latitudes are the limit of where the Sun reaches a point directly overhead at least once during the solar year, and are used to define the Tropics in this paper.

Although topography and other factors contribute to climatic variation, tropical regions are typically warm and experience little seasonal change in day-to-day temperature. An important feature of the Tropics is the prevalence of rain in the moist inner regions near the equator, and that the seasonality of rainfall increases with distance from the equator.

In the K√∂ppen-Geiger climate classification the Tropics is dominated by ‘equatorial’ and ‘arid’ climates, with the balance of the world being primarily ‘warm temperate’, ‘snow’ and ‘polar’ climates. Equatorial climates have a mean temperature for all months above 18°C (64°F), and arid zones are defined with reference to both temperature and rainfall, but are characterised by a lack of water which inhibits plant and animal life.