The paper investigates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from land use change associated with the introduction of large-scale Jatropha curcas cultivation on Miombo Woodland, using data from extant forestry and ecology studies about this ecosystem. Its results support the notion that Jatropha can help sequester atmospheric carbon when grown on complete wastelands and in severely degraded conditions. Conversely, when introduced on tropical woodlands with substantial biomass and medium/high organic soil carbon content, Jatropha will induce significant emissions that offset any GHG savings from the rest of the biofuel production chain. A carbon debt of more than 30 years is projected. On semi-degraded Miombo the overall GHG balance of Jatropha is found to hinge a lot on the extent of carbon depletion of the soil, more than on the state of the biomass. This finding points to the urgent need for detailed measurements of soil carbon in a range of Miombo sub-regions and similar tropical dryland ecosystems in Asia and Latin America. Efforts should be made to clarify concepts such as ‘degraded lands’ and ‘wastelands’ and to refine land allocation criteria and official GHG calculation methodologies for biofuels on that basis.