Considerable efforts are focused on the consequences of climate change for tropical rainforests. However, potentially the greatest threats to tropical biodiversity (synergistic interactions between climatic changes and human land use) remain understudied. Key concerns are that aridification could increase the accessibility of previously non-arable or remote lands, elevate fire impacts and exacerbate ecological effects of habitat disturbance. The growing climatic change literature often fails to appreciate that, in coming decades, climate-land use interactions might be at least as important as abiotic changes per se for the fate of tropical biodiversity. In this review, we argue that protected area expansion along key ecological gradients, regulation of human-lit fires, strategic forest-carbon financing and re-evaluations of agricultural and biofuel subsidies could ameliorate some of these synergistic threats.