Doubling of annual forest carbon loss over the tropics during the early twenty-first century

Abstract

Previous estimates of tropical forest carbon loss in the twenty-first century using satellite data typically focus on its magnitude, whereas regional loss trajectories and associated drivers are rarely reported. Here we used different high-resolution satellite datasets to show a doubling of gross tropical forest carbon loss worldwide from 0.97 ± 0.16 PgC yr−1 in 2001–2005 to 1.99 ± 0.13 PgC yr−1 in 2015–2019. This increase in carbon loss from forest conversion is higher than in bookkeeping models forced by land-use statistical data, which show no trend or a slight decline in land-use emissions in the early twenty-first century. Most (82%) of the forest carbon loss is at some stages associated with large-scale commodity or small-scale agriculture activities, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia. We find that ~70% of former forest lands converted to agriculture in 2001–2019 remained so in 2020, confirming a dominant role of agriculture in long-term pan-tropical carbon reductions on formerly forested landscapes. The acceleration and high rate of forest carbon loss in the twenty-first century suggest that existing strategies to reduce forest loss are not successful; and this failure underscores the importance of monitoring deforestation trends following the new pledges made in Glasgow.

Description

© 2022, The Author(s). cc-by

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Citation

Feng, Y., Zeng, Z., Searchinger, T.D., Ziegler, A.D., Wu, J., Wang, D., He, X., Elsen, P.R., Ciais, P., Xu, R., Guo, Z., Peng, L., Tao, Y., Spracklen, D.V., Holden, J., Liu, X., Zheng, Y., Xu, P., Chen, J., . . . Zheng, C.. 2022. Doubling of annual forest carbon loss over the tropics during the early twenty-first century. Nature Sustainability, 5(5). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00854-3

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