Forest production efficiency (FPE) metric describes how efficiently the assimilated carbon is partitioned into plants organs (biomass production, BP) or—more generally—for the production of organic matter (net primary production, NPP). We present a global analysis of the relationship of FPE to stand-age and climate, based on a large compilation of data on gross primary production and either BP or NPP. FPE is important for both forest production and atmospheric carbon dioxide uptake. We find that FPE increases with absolute latitude, precipitation and (all else equal) with temperature. Earlier findings—FPE declining with age—are also supported by this analysis. However, the temperature effect is opposite to what would be expected based on the short-term physiological response of respiration rates to temperature, implying a top-down regulation of carbon loss, perhaps reflecting the higher carbon costs of nutrient acquisition in colder climates. Current ecosystem models do not reproduce this phenomenon. They consistently predict lower FPE in warmer climates, and are therefore likely to overestimate carbon losses in a warming climate.