The reduction of cold temperature constraints on photosynthesis in recent decades has led to extended growing seasons and increased plant productivity (greening) in significant parts of Polar, Arctic and Boreal regions, here called northern lands. However, most territories within these regions display stable productivity in recent years. Smaller portions of Arctic and Boreal regions show reduced productivity (browning). Summer drought and wildfires are the best documented drivers causing browning of continental areas. Yet factors like winter warming events dampening the greening effect of more maritime regions have remained elusive, least monitored and least understood. A Norway-US network project called ArcticBiomass was launched in 2013 to further reveal both positive and negative effects of climate change on biomass in Arctic and Boreal regions. This focus collection named Focus on Recent, Present and Future Arctic and Boreal Productivity and Biomass Changes includes 24 articles and is an important outcome of this work and addresses recent changes in phenology, biomass and productivity and the mechanisms. These mechanisms include former human interactions (legacies) and drivers that control such changes (both greening and browning), along with consequences for local, regional and global scale processes. We complete our synthesis by stressing remaining challenges and knowledge gaps, and provide an outlook on future needs and research questions in the study of climate and human driven interactions in terrestrial Arctic and Boreal ecosystems.