, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 133–145 | Cite as

Protected areas’ role in climate-change mitigation

  • Jerry M. MelilloEmail author
  • Xiaoliang Lu
  • David W. Kicklighter
  • John M. Reilly
  • Yongxia Cai
  • Andrei P. Sokolov


Globally, 15.5 million km2 of land are currently identified as protected areas, which provide society with many ecosystem services including climate-change mitigation. Combining a global database of protected areas, a reconstruction of global land-use history, and a global biogeochemistry model, we estimate that protected areas currently sequester 0.5 Pg C annually, which is about one fifth of the carbon sequestered by all land ecosystems annually. Using an integrated earth systems model to generate climate and land-use scenarios for the twenty-first century, we project that rapid climate change, similar to high-end projections in IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, would cause the annual carbon sequestration rate in protected areas to drop to about 0.3 Pg C by 2100. For the scenario with both rapid climate change and extensive land-use change driven by population and economic pressures, 5.6 million km2 of protected areas would be converted to other uses, and carbon sequestration in the remaining protected areas would drop to near zero by 2100.


Protected areas Global carbon cycle Carbon sequestration Mitigation Climate change 



This research was supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, National Science Foundation grant 1027955, US EPA grant XA-83600001-1, and US DOE grant DE-FG02-94ER61937.

Supplementary material

13280_2015_693_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (637 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 638 kb)


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jerry M. Melillo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Xiaoliang Lu
    • 1
  • David W. Kicklighter
    • 1
  • John M. Reilly
    • 2
  • Yongxia Cai
    • 3
  • Andrei P. Sokolov
    • 2
  1. 1.The Ecosystems CenterMarine Biological LaboratoryWoods HoleUSA
  2. 2.Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global ChangeMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Agricultural, Resource and Energy Economics and Policy Program, Social, Statistical, and Environmental SciencesRTI InternationalResearch Triangle ParkUSA

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