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 JiangXiao Peng Song, Venkataraman Lakshmi, Eric F. Wood, Chunmiao Zheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)444-451
Number of pages8
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Food Science
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Urban Studies
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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