Baseline Map of Carbon Emissions from Deforestation in Tropical Regions

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Science  22 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6088, pp. 1573-1576
DOI: 10.1126/science.1217962

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Tropical Carbon Loss

Accurate and precise measures of tropical deforestation and the resulting carbon emissions are needed in order to formulate climate policy. Harris et al. (p. 1573; see the Perspective by Zarin) used satellite observations of deforestation within the tropics of three continents to estimate that gross annual carbon emissions were approximately 0.8 Pg Cyr−2 (Pg = 1015 g) for the years 2000 to 2005, from the loss of 43 million hectares of forest. This result, which is about one-third of some previous estimates, should serve as a baseline for future assessments of changes in the rate of loss of tropical forests.


Policies to reduce emissions from deforestation would benefit from clearly derived, spatially explicit, statistically bounded estimates of carbon emissions. Existing efforts derive carbon impacts of land-use change using broad assumptions, unreliable data, or both. We improve on this approach using satellite observations of gross forest cover loss and a map of forest carbon stocks to estimate gross carbon emissions across tropical regions between 2000 and 2005 as 0.81 petagram of carbon per year, with a 90% prediction interval of 0.57 to 1.22 petagrams of carbon per year. This estimate is 25 to 50% of recently published estimates. By systematically matching areas of forest loss with their carbon stocks before clearing, these results serve as a more accurate benchmark for monitoring global progress on reducing emissions from deforestation.

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