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The key role of forests in meeting climate targets requires science for credible mitigation


Forests contribute to climate change mitigation by conserving and enhancing the carbon sink and through reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. Yet the inclusion of forests in international climate agreements has been complex, often considered a secondary mitigation option or treated separately, like Cinderella excluded from the ball. In the lead up to the Paris Climate Agreement, countries submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), including climate mitigation targets. Assuming full implementation of INDCs, we show that land use, and forests in particular, emerge as a key component of the Paris Agreement: turning globally from a net anthropogenic source during 1990-2010 (1.3 ± 1.1 GtCO2e/y) to a net sink of carbon by 2030 (up to -1.1 ± 0.5 GtCO2e/y), and providing a quarter of emission reductions planned by countries. Realizing and tracking this mitigation potential requires more confidence in numbers, including reconciling estimates between country reports and scientific studies. This represents a challenge and an opportunity for the scientific community.