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Terrestrial carbon sinks in China and around the world and their contribution to carbon neutrality

Abstract

Enhancing the terrestrial ecosystem carbon sink (referred to as terrestrial C sink) is an important way to slow down the continuous increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration and to achieve carbon neutrality target. To better understand the characteristics of terrestrial C sinks and their contribution to carbon neutrality, this review summarizes major progress in terrestrial C budget researches during the past decades, clarifies spatial patterns and drivers of terrestrial C sources and sinks in China and around the world, and examines the role of terrestrial C sinks in achieving carbon neutrality target. According to recent studies, the global terrestrial C sink has been increasing from a source of (−0.2±0.9) Pg C yr−1 (1 Pg=1015 g) in the 1960s to a sink of (1.9±1.1) Pg C yr−1 in the 2010s. By synthesizing the published data, we estimate terrestrial C sink of 0.20–0.25 Pg C yr−1 in China during the past decades, and predict it to be 0.15–0.52 Pg C yr−1 by 2060. The terrestrial C sinks are mainly located in the mid- and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, while tropical regions act as a weak C sink or source. The C balance differs much among ecosystem types: forest is the major C sink; shrubland, wetland and farmland soil act as C sinks; and whether the grassland functions as C sink or source remains unclear. Desert might be a C sink, but the magnitude and the associated mechanisms are still controversial. Elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration, nitrogen deposition, climate change, and land cover change are the main drivers of terrestrial C sinks, while other factors such as fires and aerosols would also affect ecosystem C balance. The driving factors of terrestrial C sink differ among regions. Elevated CO2 concentration and climate change are major drivers of the C sinks in North America and Europe, while afforestation and ecological restoration are additionally important forcing factors of terrestrial C sinks in China. For future studies, we recommend the necessity for intensive and long term ecosystem C monitoring over broad geographic scale to improve terrestrial biosphere models for accurately evaluating terrestrial C budget and its dynamics under various climate change and policy scenarios.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31988102). We thank all scientists and institutions who provided data and modelling results for (i) the Global Carbon Budget 2020 by the Global Carbon Project, (ii) the Multi-scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project (MsTMIP; https://daac.ornl.gov/NACP/guides/NACP_MsTMIP_TBMO.html) and (iii) the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project Phase 2a (ISIMIP; https://doi.org/10.5880/PIK.2019.005).

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Yang, Y., Shi, Y., Sun, W. et al. Terrestrial carbon sinks in China and around the world and their contribution to carbon neutrality. Sci. China Life Sci. 65, 861–895 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11427-021-2045-5

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Keywords

  • terrestrial ecosystem
  • carbon sink
  • carbon neutrality
  • carbon cycle
  • global warming