Forest loss and degradation in the tropics contribute 6–17% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Protected areas cover 217.2 million ha (19.6%) of the world’s humid tropical forests and contain c. 70.3 petagrams of carbon (Pg C) in biomass and soil to 1 m depth. Between 2000 and 2005, we estimate that 1.75 million ha of forest were lost from protected areas in humid tropical forests, causing the emission of 0.25–0.33 Pg C. Protected areas lost about half as much carbon as the same area of unprotected forest. We estimate that the reduction of these carbon emissions from ongoing deforestation in protected sites in humid tropical forests could be valued at USD 6,200–7,400 million depending on the land use after clearance. This is > 1.5 times the estimated spending on protected area management in these regions. Improving management of protected areas to retain forest cover better may be an important, although certainly not sufficient, component of an overall strategy for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).