Tropical deforestation drivers and associated carbon emission factors derived from remote sensing data

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Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and enhancing carbon stocks (REDD+) is a crucial component of global climate change mitigation. Remote sensing can provide continuous and spatially explicit above-ground biomass (AGB) estimates, which can be valuable for the quantification of carbon stocks and emission factors (EFs). Unfortunately, there is little information on the fate of the land following tropical deforestation and of the associated carbon stock. This study quantified post-deforestation land use across the tropics for the period 1990–2000. This dataset was then combined with a pan-tropical AGB map at 30 m resolution to refine EFs from forest conversion by matching deforestation areas with their carbon stock before and after clearing and to assess spatial dynamics of EFs by follow-up land use. In Latin America, pasture was the most common follow-up land use (72%), with large-scale cropland (11%) a distant second. In Africa deforestation was often followed by small-scale cropping (61%) with a smaller role for pasture (15%). In Asia, small-scale cropland was the dominant agricultural follow-up land use (35%), closely followed by tree crops (28%). Deforestation often occurred in forests with lower than average carbon stocks. EFs showed high spatial variation within eco-zones and countries. While our EFs are only representative for the studied time period, our results show that EFs are mainly determined by the initial forest carbon stock. The estimates of the fraction of carbon lost were less dependent on initial forest biomass, which offers opportunities for REDD+ countries to use these fractions in combination with recent good quality national forest biomass maps or inventory data to quantify emissions from specific forest conversions. Our study highlights that the co-location of data on forest loss, biomass and fate of the land provides more insight into the spatial dynamics of land-use change and can help in attributing carbon emissions to human activities.

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