Halving carbon emissions from tropical deforestation by 2020 could help bring the international community closer to the agreed goal of <2 degree increase in global average temperature change and is consistent with a target set last year by the governments, corporations, indigenous peoples' organizations and non-governmental organizations that signed the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF). We assemble and refine a robust dataset to establish a 2001-2013 benchmark for average annual carbon emissions from gross tropical deforestation at 2.270 Gt CO2 yr(-1). Brazil did not sign the NYDF, yet from 2001 to 2013, Brazil ranks first for both carbon emissions from gross tropical deforestation and reductions in those emissions - its share of the total declined from a peak of 69% in 2003 to a low of 20% in 2012. Indonesia, an NYDF signatory, is the second highest emitter, peaking in 2012 at 0.362 Gt CO2 yr(-1) before declining to 0.205 Gt CO2 yr(-1) in 2013. The other 14 NYDF tropical country signatories were responsible for a combined average of 0.317 Gt CO2 yr(-1) , while the other 86 tropical country non-signatories were responsible for a combined average of 0.688 Gt CO2 yr(-1). We outline two scenarios for achieving the 50% emission reduction target by 2020, both emphasizing the critical role of Brazil and the need to reverse the trends of increasing carbon emissions from gross tropical deforestation in many other tropical countries that, from 2001 to 2013, have largely offset Brazil's reductions. Achieving the target will therefore be challenging, even though it is in the self-interest of the international community. Conserving rather than cutting down tropical forests requires shifting economic development away from a dependence on natural resource depletion toward recognition of the dependence of human societies on the natural capital that tropical forests represent and the goods and services they provide.