Impacts of climate change require that society urgently develops ways to reduce amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. Tropical forests present an important opportunity, as they take up and store large amounts of carbon. It is often suggested that forests with high biodiversity have large stocks and high rates of carbon uptake. Evidence is, however, scattered across geographic areas and scales, and it remains unclear whether biodiversity is just a co‐benefit or also a requirement for the maintenance of carbon stocks and uptake. Here, we perform a quantitative review of empirical studies that analyzed the relationships between plant biodiversity attributes and carbon stocks and carbon uptake in tropical forests. Our results show that biodiversity attributes related to species, traits or structure significantly affect carbon stocks or uptake in 64% of the evaluated relationships. Average vegetation attributes (community‐mean traits and structural attributes) are more important for carbon stocks, whereas variability in vegetation attributes (i.e., taxonomic diversity) is important for both carbon stocks and uptake. Thus, different attributes of biodiversity have complementary effects on carbon stocks and uptake. These biodiversity effects tend to be more often significant in mature forests at broad spatial scales than in disturbed forests at local spatial scales. Biodiversity effects are also more often significant when confounding variables are not included in the analyses, highlighting the importance of performing a comprehensive analysis that adequately accounts for environmental drivers. In summary, biodiversity is not only a co‐benefit, but also a requirement for short‐ and long‐term maintenance of carbon stocks and enhancement of uptake. Climate change policies should therefore include the maintenance of multiple attributes of biodiversity as an essential requirement to achieve long‐term climate change mitigation goals.