Carbon emissions from forests down by 25% between 2001-2015

Better forest management and slowdown in deforestation contribute to emission reduction

20 March 2015, Rome - Total carbon emissions from forests decreased by more than 25 percent between 2001 and 2015, mainly due to a slowdown in global deforestation rates, according to new estimates published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today.  

Global emissions from deforestation dropped from 3.9 to 2.9 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year over the period of 2001-2015. Deforestation is defined as a land-use change, from forest to other land uses.

"It is encouraging to see that net deforestation is decreasing and that some countries in all regions are showing impressive progress. Among others, they include Brazil, Chile, China, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Turkey, Uruguay, and Viet Nam," said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva. "I urge all those countries to share their successful experiences with other countries. Through South-South Cooperation programme, FAO is ready to facilitate this collaboration and knowledge exchange."

FAO emphasized at the same time that despite the overall reduction in carbon emissions from forests linked to less deforestation, emissions from forest degradation have significantly increased between 1990 and 2015, from 0.4 to 1.0 Gt CO2 per year. Forest degradation is a reduction in tree biomass density from human or natural causes such as logging, fire, windthrows and other events.

FAO published these figures for the first time on the occasion of the International Day of Forests, celebrated on 21 March 2015. The data are excerpts from a larger FAO study based on the FAOSTAT Emissions database and FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 (FRA), which will be launched in September 2015 as one of the highlights of the XIV World Forestry Congress in Durban. This will be the first time this global event is organized in Africa, under the auspices of the Government of South Africa, with more than 5,000 participants expected.

Managing forests sustainably to address the impacts of climate change

A more sustainable management of forests will result in a reduction in carbon emissions from forests and has a vital role to play in addressing the impacts of climate change, the FAO Director-General stressed. 

"Forests are critical to the Earth's carbon balance and hold about three-quarters as much carbon as is in the whole atmosphere. Deforestation and forest degradation increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but forest and tree growth absorbs carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emissions", he said.

Graziano da Silva also highlighted the important role of sustainable agriculture to reduce pressure on forests, along with implementing the UN-REDD programme to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

 Imbalances between countries and regions

The absorption of carbon by forests helps to counterbalance, although not entirely, overall emissions due to the conversion of forests to other types of land use. Forests absorb and store an additional two billion tonnes of CO per year (2011-2015), excluding emissions from deforestation. Half of the forest carbon sink is related to growth in planted forests. 

Developed countries continue to represent the bulk of the overall estimated carbon sink, with a share of 60 percent (2011-2015). This share, however, has decreased from 65 percent (2001-2010), mainly due to a decrease in the establishment of new planted forests.   

Developing countries account for the remaining 40 percent of the total carbon sink. 

At the regional level, Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean all continued to release more carbon than they absorb, although emissions from Africa and Latin America decreased between 1990 and 2015. Brazil alone represented more than 50 percent of the overall estimated reduction in carbon emissions between 2001and 2015.

The forests of Europe and North America functioned as net carbon sinks between 1990 and 2015 since they absorb more carbon than they release, whereas Oceania did not show a clear trend in forest emissions over the same period.


The FAO analysis is based on national data reported to the agency by countries using ground-based and aerial measurements. They are not directly comparable to measurements using satellite imagery only, which, although useful, do not capture certain types of forests or stages in the growth cycle, and do not easily capture land-use change dynamics.

For example, dry forests in Africa or central Brazil have great spaces between trees and often have few leaves for large parts of the year, making them difficult to capture by remote sensing, and regular harvesting activities in managed forests may be detected as deforestation by satellite surveys.

Photo: ©FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas
FAO analysis is based on national forest data. Researchers for the National Forest Assessment measuring tree thickness, Back Kan, Viet Nam.