Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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.

Data availability

The data analysed in this study are available in the Harvard Dataverse repository (

Code availability

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


  1. Minx, J. C. et al. Negative emissions—Part 1: research landscape and synthesis. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 063001 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Rogelj, J. et al. in Global Warming of 1.5°C. (eds Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) Ch. 2 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018).

  3. Dixon, R. K. et al. Carbon pools and flux of global forest ecosystems. Science 263, 185–191 (1994).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Silver, W. L., Ostertag, R. & Lugo, A. E. The potential for carbon sequestration through reforestation of abandoned tropical agricultural and pasture lands. Restor. Ecol. 8, 394–407 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Griscom, B. et al. Natural climate solutions. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 11645–11650 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Fuss, S. et al. Negative emissions—Part 2: costs, potentials and side effects. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 063002 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hawes, M. Planting carbon storage. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 556–558 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Mitchard, E. The tropical forest carbon cycle and climate change. Nature 559, 527–534 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Smith, et al. in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) Ch. 11 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  10. Kesicki, F. & Strachan, N. Marginal abatement cost (MAC) curves: confronting theory and practice. Environ. Sci. Policy 14, 1195–1204 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Gilroy, J. J. et al. Cheap carbon and biodiversity co-benefits from forest regeneration in a hotspot of endemism. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 503–507 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Busch, J. & Engelmann, J. Cost-effectiveness of reducing emissions from tropical deforestation, 2016-2050. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 015001 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Global Tree Canopy Cover Circa 2010 (United States Geological Survey, accessed 12 April 2018).

  14. Hansen, M. C. et al. High-resolution global maps of 21st-century forest cover change. Science 42, 850–853 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Anderson-Teixeira, K. J., Wang, M. M. H., McGarvey, J. C. & LeBauer, D. S. Carbon dynamics of mature and regrowth tropical forests derived from a pantropical database (TropForC-db). Glob. Change Biol. 22, 1690–1709 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Petersen, R. et al. Mapping Tree Plantations with Multispectral Imagery: Preliminary Results for Seven Tropical Countries (World Resources Institute, 2016).

  17. Pan, Y. et al. A large and persistent carbon sink in the world’s forests. Science 333, 988–993 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Baccini, A. et al. Estimated carbon dioxide emissions from tropical deforestation improved by carbon-density maps. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 182–185 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Grace, J. et al. Perturbations in the carbon budget of the tropics. Glob. Change Biol. 20, 3238–3255 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Busch, J. & Ferretti-Gallon, K. What drives deforestation and what stops it? A meta-analysis. Rev. Environ. Econ. Policy 11, 3–23 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. CAIT Climate Data Explorer (World Resources Institute, accessed 15 June 2018).

  22. Progress on the New York Declaration on Forests—An Assessment Framework and Initial Report (Climate Focus, 2015).

  23. Grassi, G. et al. The key role of forests in meeting climate targets requires science for credible mitigation. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 220–228 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Chomitz, K. M., Brenes, E. & Constantino, L. Financing environmental services: the Costa Rican experience and its implications. Sci. Total Environ. 240, 157–169 (1999).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Chazdon, R. L. & Guariguata, M. R. Natural regeneration as a tool for large-scale forest restoration in the tropicals: prospects and challenges. Biotropica 48, 716–730 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Veldman J. W. et al. Where tree planting and forest expansion are bad for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Bioscience 65, 1011–1017 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Thomas, S., Dargusch, P., Harrison, S. & Herbohn, J. Why are there so few afforestation and reforestation clean development projects? Land Use Policy 27, 880–887 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Goetz, S. et al. Measurement and monitoring needs, capabilities and potential for addressing reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation under REDD+. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 123001 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Busch, J. et al. Comparing climate and cost impacts of reference levels for reducing emissions from deforestation. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 044006 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Busch, J. et al. Structuring economic incentives to reduce emissions from deforestation within Indonesia. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 1062–1067 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Burivalova, Z. et al. Relevance of global forest change data set to local conservation: case study of forest degradation in masoala national park, Madagascar. Biotropica 47, 267–274 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Bellot, F. et al. The high-resolution global map of 21st-century forest cover change from the University of Maryland (‘Hansen Map’) is hugely overestimating deforestation in Indonesia (Forests and Climate Change Programme, 2014).

  33. Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry (UNFCC, 2001).

  34. Global Agro-Ecological Zones (GAEZv 3.0) (IIASA, FAO, 2012).

  35. FAOSTAT Database (FAO, 2014).

  36. Naidoo, R. & Iwamura, T. Global-scale mapping of economic benefits from agricultural lands: implications for conservation priorities. Biol. Conserv. 140, 40–49 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Warusawitharana, M. The Social Discount Rate in Developing Countries (Federal Reserve, 2014);

  38. Lanza, A. et al. Climate Change 2001: Mitigation (eds Metz, B. et al.) Ch. 7 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001).

  39. Jarvis A. et al. Hole-Filled Seamless SRTM Data V4 (International Center for Tropical Agriculture, 2008).

  40. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision (UNDESA, 2012).

  41. World Database on Protected Areas (World Conservation Monitoring Center, accessed 20 May 2014).

  42. Dinerstein, E. et al. An ecoregion-based approach to protecting half the terrestrial realm. BioScience 67, 534–545 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. FAOSTAT: Forestry Production and Trade: Visualize Data (FAO, 2018);

  44. Hughes, A. C. Have Indo-Malaysian forests reached the end of the road? Biol. Conserv. 223, 129–137 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Bowman, M. S. et al. Persistence of cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon: a spatial analysis of the rationale for beef production. Land Use Policy 29, 558–568 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Wooldridge, J. M. Econometric Analysis of Cross Section and Panel Data (MIT Press, 2002).

  47. Burgess, R., Hansen, M., Olken, B. A., Potapov, P. & Sieber, S. The political economy of deforestation in the tropics. Q. J. Econ. 127, 1707–1754 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013–-2022 (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, FAO, 2013).

  49. Bonner, M. T. L., Schmidt, S. & Shoo, L. P. A meta-analytical global comparison of aboveground biomass accumulation between tropical secondary forests and monoculture plantations. For. Ecol. Manag. 291, 73–80 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. IPCC 2006 IPCC Revised Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006).

  51. Poorter, L. et al. Biomass resilience of Neotropical secondary forests. Nature 530, 211–214 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  52. Mokany, K. et al. Critical analysis of root:shoot ratios in terrestrial biomes. Glob. Change Biol. 12, 84–96 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Ugalde, L. & Perez, O. Mean Annual Volume Increment of Selected Industrial Forest Plantation Species (FAO, 2001).

  54. Schwartz, N. B., Uriarte, M., DeFries, R., Gutierrez-Velez, V. H. & Pinedo-Vasquez, M. A. Land-use dynamics influence estimates of carbon sequestration potential in tropical second-growth forest. Environ. Res. Lett. 12, 074023 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Powers, J. S., Corre, M. D., Twine, T. E. & Veldkamp, E. Geographic bias of field observations of soil carbon stocks with tropical land-use changes precludes spatial extrapolation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 6318–6322 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  56. Harmonized World Soil Database (Version 1.0) (FAO/IIASA/ISRIC/ISSCAS/JRC, 2008).

  57. Mitsch, W. J. et al. Wetlands, carbon, and climate change. Landsc. Ecol. 28, 583–597 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Bridgham, S. D., Moore, T. R., Richardson, C. J. & Roulet, N. T. Errors in greenhouse forcing and soil carbon sequestration estimates in freshwater wetlands: a comment on Mitsch et al. (2013). Landsc. Ecol. 29, 1481–1485 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Neubauer, S. C. On the challenges of modeling the net radiative forcing of wetlands: reconsidering Mitsch et al. (2013) Landsc. Ecol. 29, 571–577 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Murdiyarso, D. et al. Opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in tropical peatlands. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 19655–19660 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  61. Torres, A. B., Marchant, R., Lovett, J. C., Smart, J. C. R. & Tipper, R. Analysis of the carbon sequestration costs of afforestation and reforestation agroforestry practices and the use of cost curves to evaluate their potential for implementation of climate change mitigation. Ecol. Econ. 69, 469–477 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Galik, C. S., Cooley, D. M. & Baker, J. S. Analysis of the production and transaction costs of forest carbon offset projects in the USA. J. Environ. Manag. 112, 128–136 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Technical Support Document: Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866 (United States Government, 2016).

  64. Bond, W. J. Ancient grasslands at risk. Science 351, 120–122 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


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

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jonah Busch.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–7 and Supplementary Table 1.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Busch, J., Engelmann, J., Cook-Patton, S.C. et al. Potential for low-cost carbon dioxide removal through tropical reforestation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 463–466 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing