Avoiding catastrophic climate change requires rapid decarbonization and improved ecosystem stewardship. To achieve the latter, ecosystems should be prioritized by responsiveness to direct, localized action and the magnitude and recoverability of their carbon stores. Here, we show that a range of ecosystems contain ‘irrecoverable carbon’ that is vulnerable to release upon land use conversion and, once lost, is not recoverable on timescales relevant to avoiding dangerous climate impacts. Globally, ecosystems highly affected by human land-use decisions contain at least 260 Gt of irrecoverable carbon, with particularly high densities in peatlands, mangroves, old-growth forests and marshes. To achieve climate goals, we must safeguard these irrecoverable carbon pools through an expanded set of policy and finance strategies.
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We thank the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) for financial support (to S.C.P). The author’s views and findings expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the NICFI.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Goldstein, A., Turner, W.R., Spawn, S.A. et al. Protecting irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 287–295 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0738-8