Degradation and forgone removals increase the carbon impact of intact forest loss by 626%

Intact tropical forests, free from substantial anthropogenic influence, store and sequester large amounts of atmospheric carbon but are currently neglected in international climate policy. We show that between 2000 and 2013, direct clearance of intact tropical forest areas accounted for 3.2% of gross carbon emissions from all deforestation across the pantropics. However, full carbon accounting requires the consideration of forgone carbon sequestration, selective logging, edge effects, and defaunation. When these factors were considered, the net carbon impact resulting from intact tropical forest loss between 2000 and 2013 increased by a factor of 6 (626%), from 0.34 (0.37 to 0.21) to 2.12 (2.85 to 1.00) petagrams of carbon (equivalent to approximately 2 years of global land use change emissions). The climate mitigation value of conserving the 549 million ha of tropical forest that remains intact is therefore significant but will soon dwindle if their rate of loss continues to accelerate.

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