Changing vegetation cover alters the radiative and non-radiative properties of the surface. The result of competing biophysical processes on Earth’s surface energy balance varies spatially and seasonally, and can lead to warming or cooling depending on the specific vegetation change and background climate. Here we provide the first data-driven assessment of the potential effect on the full surface energy balance of multiple vegetation transitions at global scale. For this purpose we developed a novel methodology that is optimized to disentangle the effect of mixed vegetation cover on the surface climate. We show that perturbations in the surface energy balance generated by vegetation change from 2000 to 2015 have led to an average increase of 0.23 ± 0.03 °C in local surface temperature where those vegetation changes occurred. Vegetation transitions behind this warming effect mainly relate to agricultural expansion in the tropics, where surface brightening and consequent reduction of net radiation does not counter-balance the increase in temperature associated with reduction in transpiration. This assessment will help the evaluation of land-based climate change mitigation plans.