The present and future concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide depends on both anthropogenic and natural sources and sinks of carbon. Most proposed climate mitigation strategies rely on a progressive transition to carbon-efficient technologies to reduce industrial emissions, substantially supported by policies to maintain or enhance the terrestrial carbon stock in forests and other ecosystems. This strategy may be challenged if terrestrial sequestration capacity is affected by future climate feedbacks, but how and to what extent is little understood. Here, we show that climate mitigation strategies are highly sensitive to future natural disturbance rates (e.g. fires, hurricanes, droughts), because of the potential effect of disturbances on the terrestrial carbon balance. Generally, altered disturbance rates affect the pace of societal and technological transitions required to achieve the mitigation target, with substantial consequences on the energy sector and the global economy. An understanding of the future dynamics and consequences of natural disturbances on terrestrial carbon balance is thus essential for developing robust climate mitigation strategies and policies.