Loading... please wait


Neotropical Biodiversity: Irreplaceable, Threatened & Key to Combating Climate Change

Main Stage

Programming Partner: EarthX



  • The neotropical region, which basically corresponds to Latin America and the Caribbean, has the most biodiversity of all major regions, highlighted Russell Mittermeier. It has tremendous freshwater resources in its tropical rainforest and is relatively more intact in comparison to Africa and Asia. 
  • Although climate change exerts itself physically, it is fundamentally a biological problem caused by the release of carbon into the atmosphere, stated Thomas Lovejoy, and many people are not aware of the fact that the destruction of terrestrial vegetation releases carbon into the atmosphere. With many species adapting to living in relatively precise environmental conditions, climate change has huge implications on biodiversity.

“Climate change, in the end, is a biological problem. Carbon is trapped in fossil fuels over millions of years and it is now suddenly being released at high rates into the atmosphere,” Thomas Lovejoy

  • Cristopher Jordan discussed the five great forests of Mesoamerica, which span from Colombia to Mexico and cover three times the area of Switzerland. Providing essential ecosystem services to over 5 million people, these forests are also critical to the region’s climate strategy. Their greatest threat comes from cattle ranching—in many cases, illegal—which represents 90% of the 23% deforestation suffered by three of the five forests since 2000. In the Neotropics, animal agriculture is the main cause of species extinction, ocean dead water zones, and habitat destruction. In order for Mesoamerica to become resilient, countries must work together to create a model of development that values and protects forests. Countries should also engage with indigenous-based forest cultures in order to support local food systems, secure tenure of land, and share traditional knowledge.
  • As raised by Lina Valencia, Colombia has one of the most progressive policies in the world regarding the protection of biodiversity, and this is due to two main reasons. First, during the past two to three decades, the country has worked to create and expand a network of interconnected protected areas, with the private sector’s involvement ensuring the sustainable management and expansion of these protected areas. Currently, Colombia’s public protected areas amount to 10% of the country’s surface. Second, since 1991, the country has had a policy of allowing indigenous and Afro-descendant populations to apply for rights to autonomously manage their territories—which have high percentages of forest—and this has proven to be a successful strategy for conservation.

“In the U.S. in particular we have to recognize that climate change is real, and with the new presidency coming in, we hope the U.S. will again join the global community in striving to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement,” Russell Mittermeier

  • To close the conversation, speakers were asked to comment on the most important thing that viewers could do to ensure conservation and combat climate change. Mittermeier mentioned the importance of recognizing climate change as a reality and of the U.S. rejoining the Paris Agreement. He also stated that rainforest conservation is the most cost-effective way to combat climate change. Lovejoy called for embracing nature and partaking in activities—however simple—aimed at protecting the environment. Jordan emphasized transitioning away from animal agriculture, as well as implementing deforestation-free procurement policies. Finally, Valencia mentioned that every day individual choices are key to combating climate change.


Key takeaways & next steps:


  • The protection of rainforests is the most cost-effective way to fight climate change.
  • Animal agriculture is the main cause of habitat destruction, species extinction, water pollution, and ocean dead zones in the Neotropics.
  • Governments should enact deforestation-free procurement policies to enforce adequate land management and thus prevent biodiversity destruction and climate change.



Session Speakers