Deforestation contributes 6–17% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions to the atmosphere1. Large uncertainties in emission estimates arise from inadequate data on the carbon density of forests2 and the regional rates of deforestation. Consequently there is an urgent need for improved data sets that characterize the global distribution of aboveground biomass, especially in the tropics. Here we use multi-sensor satellite data to estimate aboveground live woody vegetation carbon density for pan-tropical ecosystems with unprecedented accuracy and spatial resolution. Results indicate that the total amount of carbon held in tropical woody vegetation is 228.7 Pg C, which is 21% higher than the amount reported in the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 (ref. 3). At the national level, Brazil and Indonesia contain 35% of the total carbon stored in tropical forests and produce the largest emissions from forest loss. Combining estimates of aboveground carbon stocks with regional deforestation rates4 we estimate the total net emission of carbon from tropical deforestation and land use to be 1.0 Pg C yr−1 over the period 2000–2010—based on the carbon bookkeeping model. These new data sets of aboveground carbon stocks will enable tropical nations to meet their emissions reporting requirements (that is, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Tier 3) with greater accuracy.
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