In September 2015, member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a set of 17 ambitions for the post-2015 global development agenda. The goals do not offer a prescriptive plan but establish levers of policy action that seek to improve the three pillars of sustainable development: society, environment, and the economy. To facilitate achieving the SDGs, it will be critical to identify context-specific opportunities and challenges for implementation. Tropical regions of the world currently host not only the highest levels of biodiversity but also some of the highest rates of urbanization and development globally. Moreover, tropical forest deforestation is a globally significant issue; it has adverse impacts on biodiversity, climate systems, and socioeconomic equality. Here, we provide a rapid overview and qualitative assessment of the academic and policy literature on development and tropical forests, using the framework of the SDGs to examine issues broadly relevant to both tropical forests and sustainable development. Our assessment gathers existing knowledge and reveals critical knowledge gaps. In doing so, we identify key synergies between SDGs and tropical forests. We also suggest potential pathways of influence to improve social, environmental, and economic conditions in these rapidly developing regions of the world.