Carbon emissions and removals from forests: new estimates, 1990–2020

Tubiello, Francesco N.; Conchedda, Giulia; Wanner, Nathan; Federici, Sandro; Rossi, Simone; Grassi, Giacomo

National, regional and global COinline-formula2 emissions and removals from forests were estimated for the period 1990–2020 using as input the country reports of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020. The new Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates, based on a simple carbon stock change approach, update published information on net emissions and removals from forests in relation to (a) net forest conversion and (b) forest land. Results show a significant reduction in global emissions from net forest conversion over the study period, from a mean of 4.3 in 1991–2000 to 2.9 Gt COinline-formula2 yrinline-formula−1 in 2016–2020. At the same time, forest land was a significant carbon sink globally but decreased in strength over the study period, from inline-formula−3.5 to inline-formula−2.6 Gt COinline-formula2 yrinline-formula−1. Combining net forest conversion with forest land, our estimates indicated that globally forests were a small net source of COinline-formula2 to the atmosphere on average during 1990–2020, with mean net emissions of 0.4 Gt COinline-formula2 yrinline-formula−1. The exception was the brief period 2011–2015, when forest land removals counterbalanced emissions from net forest conversion, resulting in a global net sink of inline-formula−0.7 Gt COinline-formula2 yrinline-formula−1. Importantly, the new estimates allow for the first time in the literature the characterization of forest emissions and removals for the decade just concluded, 2011–2020, showing that in this period the net contribution of forests to the atmosphere was very small, i.e., a sink of less than inline-formula−0.2 Gt COinline-formula2 yrinline-formula−1 – an estimate not yet reported in the literature. This near-zero balance was nonetheless the result of large global fluxes of opposite sign, namely net forest conversion emissions of 3.1 Gt COinline-formula2 yrinline-formula−1 counterbalanced by net removals on forest land of inline-formula−3.3 Gt COinline-formula2 yrinline-formula−1. Finally, we compared our estimates with data independently reported by countries to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, indicating close agreement between FAO and country emissions and removals estimates. Data from this study are openly available via the Zenodo portal (Tubiello, 2020), with DOI https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3941973https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3941973, as well as in the FAOSTAT (Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database) emissions database (FAO, 2021a).

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Tubiello, Francesco N. / Conchedda, Giulia / Wanner, Nathan / et al: Carbon emissions and removals from forests: new estimates, 1990–2020. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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