Ecosystem services associated with the global carbon (C) cycle must be assessed in the context of an Earth System that has been greatly modified by human activities, the ensuing great challenges of sustainability and wellbeing, and the generic role of ecosystem services in meeting these challenges. Given this broad context, a brief survey of the carbon-climate system highlights three features. ... [Show full abstract] First, total anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (the sum of emissions from fossil fuel combustion, other industrial processes and net land use change) have grown nearly (but not exactly) exponentially over the two centuries since the onset of industrialisation, at an average growth rate of 1.9 % year−1 over the period 1850–2010, to reach 10 Pg C year−1 in 2010. Second, and consequently, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have risen steeply since 1800, from a nearly steady level of about 278 to 389 ppm in 2010, increasing at 2 ppm year−1 (2001–2010 average). Third, less than half of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions remain in the atmosphere, the rest being removed by land and ocean CO2 sinks. The fraction remaining in the atmosphere, the CO2 airborne fraction has been close to (but not exactly) constant over the period 1959–2010, at around 45 %, indicating that the global C cycle has a high self-regulating capacity. Given these features, the global C cycle supports two groups of ecosystem services: (1) services that protect the Earth System against carbon-climate vulnerabilities or reinforcing feedbacks that would accelerate climate change; and (2) services provided by C sequestration in the terrestrial biosphere, to contribute to mitigating climate change. All ecosystem services associated with the global C cycle have implications for safeguarding the “carbon cycle commons”, the globally shared, self-regulating functions of the C cycle. The services provided by the carbon cycle commons to humanity are only partly in the form of direct benefits. They are also in the form of protection against vulnerabilities, or risks of potential changes in Earth System functioning that would be harmful to human wellbeing.