People are accustomed to benefiting from tropical forest environmental services for free or at minimal cost. We use the clean water tropical forests deliver, take for granted their function in absorbing and storing carbon, and exploit their biodiversity in agriculture, the pharmaceuticals industry and forestry.
The time has come, however, for the world to start paying for these environmental services-or face the consequences of losing them. An underlying cause of tropical forest loss is that agriculture out-competes forest as a land use, and, as a result, tropical forests continue to be cleared or degraded. On the other hand, demand for tropical forest environmental services is increasing: expanding cities need more drinkable water, biodiversity is increasingly seen as an essential resource for ecotourism, science and agriculture, and climate change due to rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases looms as a global calamity, which can partly be mitigated by maintaining healthy tropical forests.