The economic potential of global forestry mitigation options is estimated to be between 1,270 and 4,230 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) per year in 2030 (at carbon prices up to USD 100 per tonne of CO2e). Achieving about half of this mid-range estimate would cost less than USD 20 per tonne of CO2e.

Nabuurs et al., 2007; Candell & Raupach, 2008

Douglas Sheil, CIFOR

Extra facts

  • Based on regional bottom-up models, forestry mitigation potential will be 1,270 to 4,230 MtCO2e in 2030. Global top-down models predict a far higher mitigation potential—13,775 MtCO2e (Nabuurs et al. 2007).
  • Four major strategies for mitigating carbon emissions through forestry activities include: increasing forested land area through reforestation, increasing carbon density of existing forests at stand and landscape scales, reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation and expanding the use of forest and agroforestry products that sustainably substitute fossil fuel carbon emissions.
  • A 10 percent reduction in deforestation would cost USD 0.4 billion to USD 1.7 billion per year and would reduce emissions by 300 to 600 MtCO2e per year from 2005 to 2030 (Kindermann et al. 2008).
  • Policy incentives are key to increasing forest carbon sinks and to ensuring that conserving forests pay more than clearing them (Greig-Gran 2010). Economic incentives will enable the forestry sector to compete with other land uses (agriculture, urban development, recreation) that limit forest mitigation opportunities (Jackson and Baker 2010). The moist tropics have the most forestry mitigation potential (Nabuurs et al. 2007).
  • Approximately 38 percent of forested land is at high risk of conversion for agriculture. Grasslands, savannahs, peatlands, wetlands and other types of vegetation are also at risk—but forests have an agricultural conversion rate three times higher than other natural landscapes.
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Methods, caveats and issues

  • The original data for Candell and Raupach’s research was extracted from the Global Carbon Project (
  • Due to the lack of baselines and uncertainties behind studies that calculate the global forestry mitigation potential, the final estimate is calculated using mostly bottom-up estimates (Nabuurs et al. 2007).
  • Forestry mitigation potential differs significantly across countries and over time. The factors influencing this potential are forestation land availability and suitability, present and future land use activities, carbon sequestration potential and changes in the efficiency of forest products (Sathaye et al. 2007).
  • Limits to mitigation through forestry and land use include: obstacles in measuring carbon stock changes, concerns regarding their potential reversibility or the non-permanency of forest carbon stocks (removal by illegal harvest or wildfires), the threat of unintended environmental and socioeconomic impacts of reforestation programmes (Candell and Raupach 2008), uncertainty around Kyoto accounting rules, leakage or displacement of emissions and financial constraints due to high transaction costs (Murphy et al. 2009).
  • Kindermann et al. (2008) uses three forestry and land-use models to calculate emission reductions. These economic models do not take into consideration transaction costs and institutional barriers.
  • A landscape approach—not forestry alone—is needed to abate land use change emissions. Even if deforestation were halted entirely, as much as 50 percent of potential reductions in emissions would be diverted to other landscapes if agriculture continued to expand at historical rates (Creed et al. 2010).
  • Agriculture is the proximate driver for an estimated 80 percent of deforestation across the globe (Kissinger et al. 2012). However, the mitigation potential in forestry associated with agriculture is difficult to estimate.
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