Untangling the confusion around land carbon science and climate change mitigation policy

Brendan Mackey, I. Colin Prentice, Will Steffen, Joanna I. House, David Lindenmayer, Heather Keith, Sandra Berry

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    154 Citations (Scopus)


    Depletion of ecosystem carbon stocks is a significant source of atmospheric CO2 and reducing land-based emissions and maintaining land carbon stocks contributes to climate change mitigation. We summarize current understanding about human perturbation of the global carbon cycle, examine three scientific issues and consider implications for the interpretation of international climate change policy decisions, concluding that considering carbon storage on land as a means to 'offset' CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels (an idea with wide currency) is scientifically flawed. The capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to store carbon is finite and the current sequestration potential primarily reflects depletion due to past land use. Avoiding emissions from land carbon stocks and refilling depleted stocks reduces atmospheric CO2 concentration, but the maximum amount of this reduction is equivalent to only a small fraction of potential fossil fuel emissions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)552-557
    Number of pages6
    JournalNature Climate Change
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013

    Bibliographical note

    Erratum can be found in Nature Climate Change, 3, p. 847, 2013.


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