The land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector in the United States absorbs more emissions than it generates, meaning it is a net sink. In 2020, forests and land removed a net -759 MtCO₂e out of the atmosphere which is equivalent to 13% of total emissions from other sectors in the US.
According to the country’s national inventory, the largest net sources of LULUCF emissions are urbanisation (78 MtCO₂e/year) and land converted to cropland (54 MtCO₂e/year). Forests remaining forests are the largest emissions sink, sequestering a net -642 MtCO₂e/year in 2020. However, the LULUCF sink has declined by 16% since 1990, due to wood harvesting, ageing forests, and natural disturbances (see “Forest area change”).
In the 1.5°C compatible pathway that we analysed, the LULUCF sector in the US continues to be net sink, with removals from afforestation / reforestation growing over time.
Making a direct comparison between this pathway and the government’s inventory data is not straightforward. The US government currently reports a much larger net sink in the LULUCF sector than the 1.5°C pathway because the inventory covers all carbon removals on managed land (which covers around 97% of US land), including sustainable forest management, net carbon accumulation in harvested wood products, and carbon sequestration from agricultural soils. Removals modelled in the 1.5°C pathway are limited to those from afforestation/reforestation. Some of the removals reported by the US government are not classified as anthropogenic by the model used to generate our pathway.,
In the 1.5°C pathway, sequestration from forest expansion increases to -375 MtCO₂/year by 2030, and over -1000 MtCO₂/year by 2050. In the long term, the sequestration rate declines as managed forests reach an equilibrium state.
The US Long-Term Strategy (LTS) projects that LULUCF net sequestration could reach about -700 to -1000 MtCO₂e/year by 2030 and about -600 to -1300 MtCO₂e/year by 2050 under the National Climate Strategy Action scenario. This is higher than our 1.5°C pathway because of the differences in coverage outlined above, and because this scenario includes some activities (e.g. restoring agricultural soils, among others) that are not accounted for in the 1.5°C pathway.
When taken alongside the 1.5°C pathways excluding LULUCF, the sequestration implied in both this LULUCF 1.5°C pathway and the US’ long-term strategy would, if realised, allow net zero GHG emissions to be achieved by the early 2040s.
It is important to note that there is an inconsistency between modelled LULUCF emissions and removals and historical emissions and removals reported by countries. This is because of a difference in how anthropogenic emissions and removals are estimated in greenhouse gas inventories compared to models.