The boreal ecosystem is an important global reservoir of stored carbon and a haven for diverse biological communities. The natural disturbance dynamics there have historically been driven by fire and insects, with human-mediated disturbances increasing faster than in other biomes globally. Previous research on the total boreal carbon stock and predictions of its future flux reveal high uncertainty in regional patterns. We reviewed and standardised this extensive body of quantitative literature to provide the most up-to-date and comprehensive estimates of the global carbon balance in the boreal forest. We also compiled century-scale predictions of the carbon budget flux. Our review and standardisation confirmed high uncertainty in the available data, but there is evidence that the region's total carbon stock has been underestimated. We found a total carbon store of 367.3 to 1715.8 Pg (10 15 g), the mid-point of which (1095 Pg) is between 1.3 and 3.8 times larger than any previous mean estimates. Most boreal carbon resides in its soils and peatlands, although estimates are highly uncertain. We found evidence that the region might become a net carbon source following a reduction in carbon uptake rate from at least the 1980s. Given that the boreal potentially constitutes the largest terrestrial carbon source in the world, in one of the most rapidly warming parts of the globe (Walsh, 2014), how we manage these stocks will be influential on future climate dynamics.