Integrated global assessment of the natural forest carbon potential

Lidong Mo*, Constantin M. Zohner*, Peter B. Reich, Jingjing Liang, Sergio de Miguel, Gert Jan Nabuurs, Susanne S. Renner, Johan van den Hoogen, Arnan Araza, Martin Herold, Leila Mirzagholi, Haozhi Ma, Colin Averill, Oliver L. Phillips, Javier G.P. Gamarra, Iris Hordijk, Devin Routh, Meinrad Abegg, Yves C. Adou Yao, Giorgio AlbertiAngelica M. Almeyda Zambrano, Braulio Vilchez Alvarado, Esteban Alvarez-Dávila, Patricia Alvarez-Loayza, Luciana F. Alves, Iêda Amaral, Christian Ammer, Clara Antón-Fernández, Alejandro Araujo-Murakami, Luzmila Arroyo, Valerio Avitabile, Gerardo A. Aymard, Timothy R. Baker, Radomir Bałazy, Olaf Banki, Jorcely G. Barroso, Meredith L. Bastian, Jean Francois Bastin, Luca Birigazzi, Frans Bongers, Mathieu Decuyper, Ben de Vries, Geerten Hengeveld, Huicui Lu, Marc Parren, Mart Jan Schelhaas, Douglas Sheil, Fons van der Plas, Hua Feng Wang, Roderik Zagt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Forests are a substantial terrestrial carbon sink, but anthropogenic changes in land use and climate have considerably reduced the scale of this system 1. Remote-sensing estimates to quantify carbon losses from global forests 2–5 are characterized by considerable uncertainty and we lack a comprehensive ground-sourced evaluation to benchmark these estimates. Here we combine several ground-sourced 6 and satellite-derived approaches 2,7,8 to evaluate the scale of the global forest carbon potential outside agricultural and urban lands. Despite regional variation, the predictions demonstrated remarkable consistency at a global scale, with only a 12% difference between the ground-sourced and satellite-derived estimates. At present, global forest carbon storage is markedly under the natural potential, with a total deficit of 226 Gt (model range = 151–363 Gt) in areas with low human footprint. Most (61%, 139 Gt C) of this potential is in areas with existing forests, in which ecosystem protection can allow forests to recover to maturity. The remaining 39% (87 Gt C) of potential lies in regions in which forests have been removed or fragmented. Although forests cannot be a substitute for emissions reductions, our results support the idea 2,3,9 that the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of diverse forests offer valuable contributions to meeting global climate and biodiversity targets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92–101
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2023


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