Forests are a substantial terrestrial carbon sink, but anthropogenic changes in land use and climate have considerably reduced the scale of this system1 . Remote-sensing estimates to quantify carbon losses from global forests2–5 are characterized by considerable uncertainty and we lack a comprehensive ground-sourced evaluation to benchmark these estimates. Here we combine several ground-sourced6 and satellitederived approaches2,7,8 to evaluate the scale of the global forest carbon potential outside agricultural and urban lands. Despite regional variation, the predictions demonstrated remarkable consistency at a global scale, with only a 12% diference between the ground-sourced and satellite-derived estimates. At present, global forest carbon storage is markedly under the natural potential, with a total defcit of 226 Gt (model range = 151–363 Gt) in areas with low human footprint. Most (61%, 139 Gt C) of this potential is in areas with existing forests, in which ecosystem protection can allow forests to recover to maturity. The remaining 39% (87 Gt C) of potential lies in regions in which forests have been removed or fragmented. Although forests cannot be a substitute for emissions reductions, our results support the idea2,3,9 that the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of diverse forests ofer valuable contributions to meeting global climate and biodiversity targets.

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Staff publications

Mo, Lidong, Zohner, Constantin M., Reich, Peter B., Liang, Jingjing, de Miguel, Sergio, Nabuurs, Gert-Jan, … Crowther, Thomas W. (2023). Integrated global assessment of the natural forest carbon potential. Nature, 624(7990), 92–101. doi:10.1038/s41586-023-06723-z