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

Yu Feng, Zhenzhong Zeng (), Timothy D. Searchinger, Alan D. Ziegler, Jie Wu, Dashan Wang, Xinyue He, Paul R. Elsen, Philippe Ciais, Rongrong Xu, Zhilin Guo, Liqing Peng, Yiheng Tao, Dominick V. Spracklen, Joseph Holden, Xiaoping Liu, Yi Zheng, Peng Xu, Ji Chen (), Xin Jiang, Xiao-Peng Song, Venkataraman Lakshmi, Eric F. Wood and Chunmiao Zheng ()
Additional contact information
Yu Feng: Southern University of Science and Technology
Zhenzhong Zeng: Southern University of Science and Technology
Timothy D. Searchinger: Princeton University
Alan D. Ziegler: Mae Jo University
Jie Wu: Southern University of Science and Technology
Dashan Wang: Southern University of Science and Technology
Xinyue He: Southern University of Science and Technology
Paul R. Elsen: Wildlife Conservation Society, Global Conservation Program
Philippe Ciais: Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, UMR 1572 CEA-CNRS-UVSQ
Rongrong Xu: Southern University of Science and Technology
Zhilin Guo: Southern University of Science and Technology
Liqing Peng: World Resources Institute
Yiheng Tao: Princeton University
Dominick V. Spracklen: University of Leeds
Joseph Holden: University of Leeds
Xiaoping Liu: Sun Yat-Sen University
Yi Zheng: Southern University of Science and Technology
Peng Xu: Southern University of Science and Technology
Ji Chen: The University of Hong Kong
Xin Jiang: Southern University of Science and Technology
Xiao-Peng Song: Texas Tech University
Venkataraman Lakshmi: University of Virginia
Eric F. Wood: Princeton University
Chunmiao Zheng: Southern University of Science and Technology

Nature Sustainability, 2022, vol. 5, issue 5, 444-451

Abstract: 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.

Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1038/s41893-022-00854-3

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