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
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Climate Change Open Access 17 February 2022
Environmental Sciences Europe Open Access 02 November 2021
Scientific Reports Open Access 07 October 2021
Subscribe to Nature+
Get immediate online access to Nature and 55 other Nature journal
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The data analysed in this study are available in the Harvard Dataverse repository (https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/tropical_reforestation_study).
All code used during this study is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
Minx, J. C. et al. Negative emissions—Part 1: research landscape and synthesis. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 063001 (2018).
Rogelj, J. et al. in Global Warming of 1.5 °C. (eds Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) Ch. 2 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018).
Dixon, R. K. et al. Carbon pools and flux of global forest ecosystems. Science 263, 185–191 (1994).
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).
Griscom, B. et al. Natural climate solutions. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 11645–11650 (2017).
Fuss, S. et al. Negative emissions—Part 2: costs, potentials and side effects. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 063002 (2018).
Hawes, M. Planting carbon storage. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 556–558 (2018).
Mitchard, E. The tropical forest carbon cycle and climate change. Nature 559, 527–534 (2018).
Smith, et al. in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) Ch. 11 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Kesicki, F. & Strachan, N. Marginal abatement cost (MAC) curves: confronting theory and practice. Environ. Sci. Policy 14, 1195–1204 (2011).
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).
Busch, J. & Engelmann, J. Cost-effectiveness of reducing emissions from tropical deforestation, 2016-2050. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 015001 (2018).
Global Tree Canopy Cover Circa 2010 (United States Geological Survey, accessed 12 April 2018).
Hansen, M. C. et al. High-resolution global maps of 21st-century forest cover change. Science 42, 850–853 (2013).
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).
Petersen, R. et al. Mapping Tree Plantations with Multispectral Imagery: Preliminary Results for Seven Tropical Countries (World Resources Institute, 2016).
Pan, Y. et al. A large and persistent carbon sink in the world’s forests. Science 333, 988–993 (2011).
Baccini, A. et al. Estimated carbon dioxide emissions from tropical deforestation improved by carbon-density maps. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 182–185 (2012).
Grace, J. et al. Perturbations in the carbon budget of the tropics. Glob. Change Biol. 20, 3238–3255 (2014).
Busch, J. & Ferretti-Gallon, K. What drives deforestation and what stops it? A meta-analysis. Rev. Environ. Econ. Policy 11, 3–23 (2017).
CAIT Climate Data Explorer (World Resources Institute, accessed 15 June 2018).
Progress on the New York Declaration on Forests—An Assessment Framework and Initial Report (Climate Focus, 2015).
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).
Chomitz, K. M., Brenes, E. & Constantino, L. Financing environmental services: the Costa Rican experience and its implications. Sci. Total Environ. 240, 157–169 (1999).
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).
Veldman J. W. et al. Where tree planting and forest expansion are bad for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Bioscience 65, 1011–1017 (2015).
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).
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).
Busch, J. et al. Comparing climate and cost impacts of reference levels for reducing emissions from deforestation. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 044006 (2009).
Busch, J. et al. Structuring economic incentives to reduce emissions from deforestation within Indonesia. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 1062–1067 (2012).
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).
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).
Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry (UNFCC, 2001).
Global Agro-Ecological Zones (GAEZv 3.0) (IIASA, FAO, 2012).
FAOSTAT Database (FAO, 2014).
Naidoo, R. & Iwamura, T. Global-scale mapping of economic benefits from agricultural lands: implications for conservation priorities. Biol. Conserv. 140, 40–49 (2007).
Warusawitharana, M. The Social Discount Rate in Developing Countries (Federal Reserve, 2014); https://doi.org/10.17016/2380-7172.0029
Lanza, A. et al. Climate Change 2001: Mitigation (eds Metz, B. et al.) Ch. 7 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001).
Jarvis A. et al. Hole-Filled Seamless SRTM Data V4 (International Center for Tropical Agriculture, 2008).
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision (UNDESA, 2012).
World Database on Protected Areas (World Conservation Monitoring Center, accessed 20 May 2014).
Dinerstein, E. et al. An ecoregion-based approach to protecting half the terrestrial realm. BioScience 67, 534–545 (2017).
FAOSTAT: Forestry Production and Trade: Visualize Data (FAO, 2018); http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/FO/visualize
Hughes, A. C. Have Indo-Malaysian forests reached the end of the road? Biol. Conserv. 223, 129–137 (2018).
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).
Wooldridge, J. M. Econometric Analysis of Cross Section and Panel Data (MIT Press, 2002).
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).
OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013–-2022 (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, FAO, 2013).
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).
IPCC 2006 IPCC Revised Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006).
Poorter, L. et al. Biomass resilience of Neotropical secondary forests. Nature 530, 211–214 (2016).
Mokany, K. et al. Critical analysis of root:shoot ratios in terrestrial biomes. Glob. Change Biol. 12, 84–96 (2006).
Ugalde, L. & Perez, O. Mean Annual Volume Increment of Selected Industrial Forest Plantation Species (FAO, 2001).
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).
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).
Harmonized World Soil Database (Version 1.0) (FAO/IIASA/ISRIC/ISSCAS/JRC, 2008).
Mitsch, W. J. et al. Wetlands, carbon, and climate change. Landsc. Ecol. 28, 583–597 (2013).
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).
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).
Murdiyarso, D. et al. Opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in tropical peatlands. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 19655–19660 (2010).
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).
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).
Technical Support Document: Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866 (United States Government, 2016).
Bond, W. J. Ancient grasslands at risk. Science 351, 120–122 (2016).
We acknowledge the generous support of an anonymous individual donor and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (QZA-0701 QZA-16/0162).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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.
About this article
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). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0485-x
This article is cited by
Nature Climate Change (2022)
Environmental Sciences Europe (2021)
Nature Reviews Earth & Environment (2021)
Nature Communications (2021)
Nature Climate Change (2021)