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Deforestation is the second largest anthropogenic source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, after fossil fuel combustion. Following a budget reanalysis, the contribution from deforestation is revised downwards, but tropical peatlands emerge as a notable carbon dioxide source.
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NATURE GEOSCIENCE | VOL 2 | NOVEMBER 2009 | www.nature.com/naturegeoscience 737
commentary
CO2 emissions from forest loss
G. R. van der Werf, D. C. Morton, R. S. DeFries, J. G. J. Olivier, P. S. Kasibhatla, R. B. Jackson, G. J. Collatz
and J. T. Randerson
Deforestation is the second largest anthropogenic source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, after
fossil fuel combustion. Following a budget reanalysis, the contribution from deforestation is revised
downwards, but tropical peatlands emerge as a notable carbon dioxide source.
Programmes that aim to reduce the
emissions from deforestation and forest
degradation are being considered as a
cost-eective way to mitigate anthropogenic
greenhouse-gas emissions1. Deforestation
and forest degradation contribute to
atmospheric greenhouse-gas emissions
through combustion of forest biomass and
decomposition of remaining plant material
and soil carbon. Within the science and
policy communities, carbon emissions from
deforestation and forest degradation have
been estimated to account for about 20% of
global anthropogenic CO2 emissions2–5. A
recalculation of this fraction using the same
methods, but updated estimates on carbon
emissions from both deforestation and
fossil fuel combustion suggests that in 2008,
the relative contribution of CO
2 emissions
from deforestation and forest degradation
was substantially smaller, around 12%. As a
consequence, the maximum carbon savings
from reductions in forest decline are likely
to be lower than expected.
Deforestation is the long-term reduction
of tree canopy cover6 to below 10–30%. In
practice, deforestation is associated with
the conversion of forest to other types
of land use, such as cropland or pasture.
Forest degradation is typically considered
partial deforestation, with more than
10–30% of forest cover remaining (for
example, through selective logging). Land
degradation that does not involve changes
in tree cover density, such as oxidation
and combustion of deforested and drained
tropical peatlands7,8, may also involve
substantial carbon emissions. However, losses
of these non-forest carbon stocks are not
generally included in deforestation and forest
degradation assessments, as summarized in
the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working
Group I (ref. 2), nor are they considered in
policies aiming to reduce emissions from
deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).
e two main assessments of CO2
emissions from deforestation and
forest degradation for the 1980s and
1990s — one based on surveys by the
Food and Agricultural Organisation
(FAO)9 and the other based on satellite
data10 — have limitations11,12, and one
is not obviously preferable to the other.
erefore, IPCC Working Group I
averaged emissions estimates from the two
approaches for their estimate of carbon
emissions from deforestation and forest
degradation (Fig. 1). However, since the
IPCC assessments were written, the FAO
has lowered its estimate of deforestation
and forest degradation rates, leading
to a 30% reduction in related carbon
emissions13,14 (Fig. 1). Furthermore,
an updated satellite-based estimate of
deforestation rates15, derived from changes
in tree cover density in the humid tropics
during 2000–2005, suggested that rates
1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008
Year
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
Fossil fuel16,17
FAO-based D&FD9,13,14
IPCC Working Group I D&FD2
IPCC Working Group III D&FD18,19
Satellite-based D&FD24
Satellite-based D&FD10
Carbon emissions (Pg C yr–1)
Figure 1 | Carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (D&FD) and fossil fuel emissions
for 1980 onwards. Updated datasets and approaches are depicted with a solid line, outdated ones
with a dashed line. The often-held assumption that deforestation and forest degradation accounts for
20% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions is calculated using the average (dashed black line) of the
deforestation surveys from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO; dashed grey line) and satellites
in the 1990s (dark blue line), compared with average fossil fuel emissions estimates for the 1990s (red).
Revised FAO-based emissions estimates (solid grey line) together with increased fossil fuel emissions
substantially lower the relative contribution of deforestation and degradation to total anthropogenic
emissions to about 12%. Dashed brown line indicates D&FD assessment used in IPCC Working Group III;
solid brown line follows the same approach, but is based on updated carbon emissions from tropical forest
fires used in this approach. Error bars are not shown, but the uncertainty in the deforestation figures is
large, up to 50%. Peatland carbon emissions (0.30 Pg C yr1) are not included in emissions estimates.
ngeo_671_NOV09.indd 737 21/10/09 11:07:55
© 2009 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
738 NATURE GEOSCIENCE | VOL 2 | NOVEMBER 2009 | www.nature.com/naturegeoscience
commentary
are similar to those in the previous
decade10, resulting in estimates that are still
lower than those reported in the revised
FAO survey.
A recalculation, using IPCC methods
and these updated values, suggests CO2
emissions from deforestation and forest
degradation (excluding peatland emissions)
of about 1.2 Pg C yr–1 — 23% less than
the value given in the 2007 report of the
IPCC Working Group I. In this calculation,
we assume that rates of forest decline for
2000–2005 were almost the same as in
the 1990s, based on survey14 and satellite-
based approaches15 of deforestation area
(Fig. 1). Carbon emissions from fossil fuel
combustion have increased substantially
over the same period16,17, making the
relative contribution from deforestation
and forest degradation even smaller. As a
result, deforestation and forest degradation
emissions contribute about 12% of total
anthropogenic CO2 emissions (updated
from 20%). Taking into account the
large uncertainties in the deforestation
and degradation estimates2, the range
becomes 6–17%.
In addition to the emissions assessment
of the IPCC Working Group I (e
Physical Science Basis), an independent
assessment18,19 was carried out by the IPCC
Working Group III (Mitigation of Climate
Change), based on carbon emissions
released by res in tropical forest areas.
is approach assumed that half of the
total CO2 emissions from deforestation and
forest degradation come from forest re,
whereas the remainder can be attributed
to respiration of leover materials18,20.
Carbon emissions from tropical peatland
burning and oxidation in Southeast Asia8,
mostly in Indonesia, were included in their
assessment. Combined with deforestation
and forest degradation, this estimate of the
contribution of forest and peatland decline
amounted to 23% of total CO2 emissions
(or 17% of all anthropogenic greenhouse
gases released into the atmosphere; see
Supplementary Information).
However, the IPCC Working Group
III assessments also need to be revised
down in the light of new information:
data updates led to a 32% decrease in the
estimates of re-related carbon emissions
from deforestation and forest degradation,
resulting in a revised deforestation and
forest degradation average of 1.2 Pg C yr–1
over the period 1997–2006 (refs 17, 21).
Furthermore, carbon emissions from
Southeast-Asian peatland res, constrained
by satellite-derived column-mixing ratios
of carbon monoxide22, were less than half
of those used in the IPCC Working Group
III report. Yet even this lower value of the
contribution from peat res highlights
the importance of peat degradation in
Southeast Asia in the global CO2 budget:
combined with earlier estimates of carbon
emissions from peatland oxidation8, it
amounts to 0.30 Pg C yr–1 averaged over
1997–2006, about a quarter of the updated
CO2 emissions from deforestation and forest
degradation. e combined contribution
of deforestation, forest degradation and
peatland emissions to total anthropogenic
CO2 emissions is about 15% (range
8–20%; see Supplementary Information
for a comparison with all anthropogenic
greenhouse gases). We conclude that
taking into account carbon emissions from
peatlands would enhance the eectiveness
of REDD programmes, which are under
discussion in the United Nations climate
policy negotiations.
In short, the maximum reduction in CO2
emissions from avoiding deforestation and
forest degradation is probably about 12% of
current total anthropogenic emissions (or
15% if peat degradation is included) — and
that is assuming, unrealistically, that
emissions from deforestation, forest
degradation and peat degradation can
be completely eliminated. erefore,
reducing fossil fuel emissions remains the
key element for stabilizing atmospheric
CO2 concentrations.
Nevertheless, eorts to mitigate emissions
from tropical forests and peatlands, and
maintain existing terrestrial carbon stocks,
remain critical for the negotiation of a
post-Kyoto agreement. Even our revised
estimates represent substantial emissions,
and for about 30 developing countries,
including Brazil, Bolivia, Indonesia,
Myanmar and Zambia, deforestation and
forest degradation are the largest source
of CO2 (ref. 17). Moreover, reductions
in the emissions from deforestation and
degradation of peat and forest may remain
one of the more cost-eective ‘wedges’1,23
that can help to stabilize atmospheric
CO2 levels.
If changes in terrestrial carbon storage
are to have a role in a post-Kyoto agreement,
a strong focus on monitoring changes in
carbon content, irrespective of forest cover
density would strengthen the eectiveness of
REDD programmes. For example, replacing
peat forest with oil-palm plantations may
not change the tree cover density, but it
does lead to a large pulse of CO2 emissions
because of reductions in both tree biomass
and soil carbon8. In addition to the proposed
satellite monitoring of terrestrial biomass,
satellite-derived observations of res as
well as measurements of atmospheric CO2
concentrations in combination with inverse
modelling and ground-based validation can
help track carbon losses from deforestation
and the degradation of forest and peat.
G. R. van der Werf 1*, D. C. Morton2, R. S. DeFries3,
J. G. J. Olivier4, P. S. Kasibhatla5, R. B. Jackson5,
G. J. Collatz2, and J. T. Randerson6 are at the
1Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences,VU University
Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081HV,
Amsterdam, e Netherlands, 2Hydrospheric and
Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, Code 614.4, NASA’s
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
20771, USA, 3Department of Ecology, Evolution
and Environmental Biology, Columbia University,
10th Floor Schermerhorn Extension, 1200
Amsterdam Avenue, New York, New York 10027,
USA, 4Netherlands Environmental Assessment
Agency, PO Box 303, 3720AH Bilthoven, e
Netherlands, 5Nicholas School of the Environment,
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708,
USA and 6Earth System Science Department,
3212 Croul Hall, University of California, Irvine,
California 92697, USA.
*e‑mail: guido.van.der.werf@falw.vu.nl
References
1. Gullison, R. E. et al. Science 316, 985–986 (2007).
2. Denman, K. L. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2007: e Physical
Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) 499–587 (Cambridge Univ.
Press, 2007)
3. Gibbs, H. K. & Herold, M. Env. Res. Lett. 2, 045021 (2007).
4. Schrope, M. Nat. Rep. Clim. Change 3, 101–103 (2009).
5. Available via <http://tinyurl.com/kszq9t>.
6. Penman, J. et al. (eds) Good Practice Guide for Land Use, Land‑
Use Change and Forestry (Institute for Global Environmental
Strategies, 2003).
7. Page, S. E. et al. Nature 420, 61–65 (2002).
8. Hooijer. A. et al. Del Hydraulics report Q3943 (WL/Del
Hydraulics, 2006).
9. Houghton, R. A. Tellus B 55, 378–390 (2003).
10. DeFries, R. S. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA
99, 14256–14261 (2002).
11. Grainger, A. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 818–823 (2008).
12. Fearnside, P. M. & Laurance, W. F. Science
299 1015 (2003).
13. Canadell, J. G. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA
104, 18866–18870 (2007).
14. Houghton, R. A. in TRENDS: A Compendium of Data on Global
Change (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Department
of Energy, 2008); available at <http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/
landuse/houghton/houghton.html>.
15. Hansen, M. C. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA
105, 9439–9444 (2008).
16. Andres, R. J. et al. Tellus B 51, 759–765 (1999).
17. Joint Research Cent re/Netherlands Environmental Assessm ent
Agency, Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research 4.0
(2009); available at <http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu>.
18. Barker, T. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of
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Press, 2007).
19. Nabuurs, G. J. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2007: Mitigation
of Climate Change (eds Metz, B. et al.) 541–584
(Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
20. Olivier, J. G. J. et al. Environ. Sci. 2, 81–99 (2005).
21. van der Werf, G. R. et al. Atmos. Chem. Phys.
6, 3423–3441 (2006).
22. van der Werf, G. R. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA
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23. Pacala, S. & Socolow, R. Science 305, 968–972 (2004).
24. Achard, F. et al. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 18, GB2008 (2004).
Additional information
Supplementary information accompanies this paper on
www.nature.com/geoscience.
ngeo_671_NOV09.indd 738 21/10/09 11:07:55
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1] Recent figures on net forest cover change rates of the world's tropical forest cover are used for the calculation of carbon fluxes in the global budget. By applying our deforestation findings in the humid tropics, complemented by published deforestation figures in the dry tropics, to refereed data on biomass, we produced new estimates of net carbon emissions. These estimates are supported by recent, independent estimations of net carbon emissions globally, over the Brazilian Amazon, and by observations of atmospheric CO 2 emissions over Southeast Asia. Our best estimate for global net emissions from land-use change in the tropics is at 1.1 ± 0.3 Gt C yr À1 . This estimate includes emissions from conversion of forests (representing 71% of budget) and loss of soil carbon after deforestation (20%), emissions from forest degradation (4.4%), emissions from the 1997–1998 Indonesian exceptional fires (8.3%), and sinks from regrowths (À3.3%). (2004), Improved estimates of net carbon emissions from land cover change in the tropics for the 1990s, Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 18, GB2008, doi:10.1029/2003GB002142.
Article
Newly compiled energy statistics allow for an estimation of the complete time series of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions from fossil-fuel use for the years 1751 to the present. The time series begins with 3 × 10 6 metric tonnes carbon (C). This initial flux represents the early stages of the fossil-fuel era. The CO 2 flux increased exponentially until World War I. The time series derived here seamlessly joins the modern 1950 to present time series. Total cumulative CO 2 emissions through 1949 were 61.0 × 10 9 tonnes C from fossil-fuel use, virtually all since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1860. The rate of growth continues to grow during present times, generating debate on the probability of enhanced greenhouse warming. In addition to global totals, national totals and 1° global distributions of the data have been calculated. DOI: 10.1034/j.1600-0889.1999.t01-3-00002.x
Article
Newly compiled energy statistics allow for an estimation of the complete time series of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil-fuel use for the years 1751 to the present. The time series begins with 3 × 106 metric tonnes carbon (C). This initial flux represents the early stages of the fossil-fuel era. The CO2 flux increased exponentially until World War I. The time series derived here seamlessly joins the modern 1950 to present time series. Total cumulative CO2 emissions through 1949 were 61.0 × 109 tonnes C from fossil-fuel use, virtually all since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1860. The rate of growth continues to grow during present times, generating debate on the probability of enhanced greenhouse warming. In addition to global totals, national totals and 1° global distributions of the data have been calculated.
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abstractRecent analyses of land-use change in the US and China, together with the latest estimates of tropical deforestation and afforestation from the FAO, were used to calculate a portion of the annual flux of carbon between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. The calculated flux includes only that portion of the flux resulting from direct human activity. In most regions, activities included the conversion of natural ecosystems to cultivated lands and pastures, including shifting cultivation, harvest of wood (for timber and fuel) and the establishment of tree plantations. In the US, woody encroachment and woodland thickening as a result of fire suppression were also included. The calculated flux of carbon does not include increases or decreases in carbon storage as a result of environmental changes (e.g., increasing concentrations of CO2, N deposition, climatic change or pollution). Globally, the long-term (1850–2000) flux of carbon from changes in land use and management released 156 PgC to the atmosphere, about 60% of it from the tropics. Average annual fluxes during the 1980s and 1990s were 2.0 and 2.2 PgC yr−1, respectively, dominated by releases of carbon from the tropics. Outside the tropics, the average net flux of carbon attributable to land-use change and management decreased from a source of 0.06 PgC yr−1 during the 1980s to a sink of 0.02 PgC yr−1 during the 1990s. According to the analyses summarized here, changes in land use were responsible for sinks in North America and Europe and for small sources in other non-tropical regions. The revisions were as large as 0.3 PgC yr−1 in individual regions but were largely offsetting, so that the global estimate for the 1980s was changed little from an earlier estimate. Uncertainties and recent improvements in the data used to calculate the flux of carbon from land-use change are reviewed, and the results are compared to other estimates of flux to evaluate the extent to which processes other than land-use change and management are important in explaining changes in terrestrial carbon storage.