Forest expansion dominates China’s land carbon sink since 1980

Zhen Yu, Philippe Ciais, Shilong Piao, Richard A. Houghton, Chaoqun Lu, Hanqin Tian, Evgenios Agathokleous, Giri Raj Kattel, Stephen Sitch, Daniel Goll, Xu Yue, Anthony Walker, Pierre Friedlingstein, Atul K. Jain, Shirong Liu, Guoyi Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Carbon budget accounting relies heavily on Food and Agriculture Organization land-use data reported by governments. Here we develop a new land-use and cover-change database for China, finding that differing historical survey methods biased China’s reported data causing large errors in Food and Agriculture Organization databases. Land ecosystem model simulations driven with the new data reveal a strong carbon sink of 8.9 ± 0.8 Pg carbon from 1980 to 2019 in China, which was not captured in Food and Agriculture Organization data-based estimations due to biased land-use and cover-change signals. The land-use and cover-change in China, characterized by a rapid forest expansion from 1980 to 2019, contributed to nearly 44% of the national terrestrial carbon sink. In contrast, climate changes (22.3%), increasing nitrogen deposition (12.9%), and rising carbon dioxide (8.1%) are less important contributors. This indicates that previous studies have greatly underestimated the impact of land-use and cover-change on the terrestrial carbon balance of China. This study underlines the importance of reliable land-use and cover-change databases in global carbon budget accounting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5374
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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