Changes in forest cover affect the local climate by modulating the land-atmosphere fluxes of energy and water. The magnitude of this biophysical effect is still debated in the scientific community and currently ignored in climate treaties. Here we present an observation-driven assessment of the climate impacts of recent forest losses and gains, based on Earth observations of global forest cover and land surface temperatures. Our results show that forest losses amplify the diurnal temperature variation and increase the mean and maximum air temperature, with the largest signal in arid zones, followed by temperate, tropical, and boreal zones. In the decade 2003–2012, variations of forest cover generated a mean biophysical warming on land corresponding to about 18% of the global biogeochemical signal due to CO2 emission from land-use change.