Letter | Published:

Potential for low-cost carbon dioxide removal through tropical reforestation


Achieving the 1.5–2.0 °C temperature targets of the Paris climate agreement requires not only reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) but also increasing removals of GHGs from the atmosphere1,2. Reforestation is a potentially large-scale method for removing CO2 and storing it in the biomass and soils of ecosystems3,4,5,6,7,8, yet its cost per tonne remains uncertain6,9. Here, we produce spatially disaggregated marginal abatement cost curves for tropical reforestation by simulating the effects of payments for increased CO2 removals on land-cover change in 90 countries. We estimate that removals from tropical reforestation between 2020–2050 could be increased by 5.7 GtCO2 (5.6%) at a carbon price of US $20 CO2–1, or by 15.1 GtCO2 (14.8%) at US$50 tCO2–1. Ten countries comprise 55% of potential low-cost abatement from tropical reforestation. Avoided deforestation offers 7.2–9.6 times as much potential low-cost abatement as reforestation overall (55.1 GtCO2 at US$20 tCO2–1 or 108.3 GtCO2 at US$50 tCO2–1), but reforestation offers more potential low-cost abatement than avoided deforestation at US$20 tCO2–1 in 21 countries, 17 of which are in Africa.

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Data availability

The data analysed in this study are available in the Harvard Dataverse repository (https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/tropical_reforestation_study).

Code availability

All code used during this study is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Additional information

Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Helal Ahammad, Antonio Trabucco and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


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We acknowledge the generous support of an anonymous individual donor and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (QZA-0701 QZA-16/0162).

Author information

J.B. and P.S. planned the project. J.B., J.E., and S.C.C.-P. prepared and analysed data. J.B., J.E., S.C.C.-P., B.W.G., T.K., H.P. and P.S. contributed to writing the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Jonah Busch.

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Fig. 1: Global MAC curves.
Fig. 2: Maps of increased removals from reforestation and reduced emissions from deforestation at a carbon price of US$20 tCO2–1 from 2020 to 2050.
Fig. 3: Increased removals from tropical reforestation and reduced emissions from deforestation in 77 countries at US$20 tCO2–1 from 2020 to 2050.