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Deforestation, wetlands loss in Brazil and Indonesia generated 45b tons of CO2 in 20 years

Annual deforestation emissions estimates released by the FAO

Deforestation in Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has launched a global set of statistics on carbon emissions from deforestation, agriculture and other forms of land use for the 1990-2010 period.

The dataset, which is part of the FAO’s database of statistics known as FAOSTAT, is based on FAO estimates of forest biomass, deforestation, and crop cover. The data is listed by country and region.

Unsurprisingly, the FAOSTAT GHG dataset shows that high deforestation countries generated the most emissions from forest loss over the 20-year period. Net forest conversion in Brazil released 25.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) between 1990 and 2010. Indonesia (13.1 billion tons), Nigeria (3.8 billion tons), Democratic Republic of the Congo (3 billion tons), and Venezuela (2.6 billion tons) rounded out the top five among emitters, according to the system.



At the other end of the scale, was China, where afforestation, reforestation, and recovery of 5.2 million hectares of forest resulted in the net sequestration of 5.7 billion tons of CO2e. The United States (1.9 billion tons) and Vietnam (1.2 billion tons) also experienced substantial recovery of forest carbon stocks, according to the database.

The database also estimates net emissions from cropland expansion into drained organic soils. Indonesia led the pack with 5.6 billion tons of CO2 emissions, followed by the United States (1.4 billion tons), Papua New Guinea (816 million tons), Malaysia (690 billion tons), and Bangladesh (612 million tons). Emissions in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia were especially high due to drainage and conversion of carbon-dense peat swamps.

In aggregate, Brazil (25.8 billion tons) and Indonesia (18.7 billion tons) came out on top in terms of emissions from land use. Their combined emissions during the 20-year period are equivalent to about 134 percent of current annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels or four-and-a-half times China’s 2011 emissions.


While the database provides some interesting insights on the climate impacts of land use change, it comes with a significant caveat: many researchers have criticized the accuracy of FAO data, much of which is self-reported by countries. In particular, annual forest cover data and carbon stock estimates for tropical peatlands are suspect.

Nonetheless, the database is presently the most comprehensive global time-series statistics on greenhouse gas emissions from land-use change and should provide researchers and analysts with a starting point for emissions accounting efforts.

Recent studies indicate that deforestation accounts for roughly 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Agriculture and degradation of peatlands contribute a lesser — but more hotly contested — amount of emissions.

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