The terrestrial carbon sink accelerated during 1998–2012, concurrently with the slow warming period, but the mechanisms behind this acceleration are unclear. Here we analyse recent changes in the net land carbon sink (NLS) and its driving factors, using atmospheric inversions and terrestrial carbon models. We show that the linear trend of NLS during 1998–2012 is about 0.17 ± 0.05 Pg C yr−2 , which is three times larger than during 1980–1998 (0.05 ± 0.05 Pg C yr−2). According to terrestrial carbon model simulations, the intensification of the NLS cannot be explained by CO2 fertilization or climate change alone. We therefore use a bookkeeping model to explore the contribution of changes in land-use emissions and find that decreasing land-use emissions are the dominant cause of the intensification of the NLS during the slow warming period. This reduction of land-use emissions is due to both decreased tropical forest area loss and increased afforestation in northern temperate regions. The estimate based on atmospheric inversions shows consistently reduced land-use emissions, whereas another bookkeeping model did not reproduce such changes, probably owing to missing the signal of reduced tropical deforestation. These results highlight the importance of better constraining emissions from land-use change to understand recent trends in land carbon sinks.