Global variation in the cost of increasing ecosystem carbon


Slowing the reduction, or increasing the accumulation, of organic carbon stored in biomass and soils has been suggested as a potentially rapid and cost-effective method to reduce the rate of atmospheric carbon increase1. The costs of mitigating climate change by increasing ecosystem carbon relative to the baseline or business-as-usual scenario has been quantified in numerous studies, but results have been contradictory, as both methodological issues and substance differences cause variability2. Here we show, based on 77 standardized face-to-face interviews of local experts with the best possible knowledge of local land-use economics and sociopolitical context in ten landscapes around the globe, that the estimated cost of increasing ecosystem carbon varied vastly and was perceived to be 16–27 times cheaper in two Indonesian landscapes dominated by peatlands compared with the average of the eight other landscapes. Hence, if reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and other land-use mitigation efforts are to be distributed evenly across forested countries, for example, for the sake of international equity, their overall effectiveness would be dramatically lower than for a cost-minimizing distribution.

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Fig. 1: Location of the landscapes.
Fig. 2: Carbon densities in the studied landscapes during the first 60 years of the simulation.
Fig. 3: Potential carbon additions as a result of payments relative to the initial by discounting weights with 3%.


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We thank the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) for funding, A. Pienimäki and P. E. Rengifo for pivotal contributions on carbon and land-use data, C. Bergroth, E. Willberg, D. Gaveau, H. Yaen and S. Tuominen for assistance with land-use and carbon data, L. F. Kowler, J. Gonzales Tovar, Y. Saden, A. Lorens, M. Habib, M. H. Kijazi, I. A. Torrijos, T. Trench, R. Myers, A. Ravikumar and A. A. Monge Monge for assistance in selecting and arranging the interviews, K. Korhonen-Kurki, A. Rautiainen, S. Rantala and P. Ojanen for discussions and comments on the manuscript, S. Thompson for linguistic editing and the 71 interviewed experts of whom the following were willing to reveal their names listed in alphabetic order: E. Järvinen, D. R. Kisanga, A. M. Quijano, K. M. Muombwa, A. Puhalainen and P. E. Rengifo.

Author information




M.Ka. raised the funding, M.L. and M.Ka. developed the research idea, M.L., H.G., M.Ku., J.K., N.K. and M.Ka. worked on the land-use and carbon data, M.L. and M.Ka. performed the interviews, M.L. analysed the data and wrote the first draft of the main manuscript, M.L., M.Ku. and J.K. wrote the first draft of the Supplementary Methods and M.L., S.W., A.M.L., M.Ku., N.K. and J.K. edited the draft to produce the final version.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Markku Larjavaara.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Boxes 1–2, Supplementary Tables 1–10, Supplementary Figure 1, Supplementary Methods.

Supplementary Data Landscape Borders

Contains the borders of the ten landscapes in the WGS-84 coordinate system. Note that Indonesia West is composed of two separate parts.

Supplementary Data Carbon Density

Contains carbon-density (Mg ha-1) datasets for the seven landscapes for which the used carbon densities were computed by taken a weighted mean from a dataset.

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Larjavaara, M., Kanninen, M., Gordillo, H. et al. Global variation in the cost of increasing ecosystem carbon. Nature Clim Change 8, 38–42 (2018).

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