We investigated whether the degree of light inhibition of leaf respiration (R) differs among large Eucalyptus saligna grown in whole-tree chambers and exposed to present and future atmospheric [CO2] and summer drought. Associated with month-to-month changes in temperature were concomitant changes in R in the light (Rlight) and darkness (Rdark), with both processes being more temperature dependent in well-watered trees than under drought. Overall rates of Rlight and Rdark were not significantly affected by [CO2]. By contrast, overall rates of Rdark (averaged across both [CO2]) were ca. 25% lower under drought than in well-watered trees. During summer, the degree of light inhibition of leaf R was greater in droughted (ca. 80% inhibition) than well-watered trees (ca. 50% inhibition). Notwithstanding these treatment differences, an overall positive relationship was observed between Rlight and Rdark when data from all months/treatments were combined (R2 = 0.8). Variations in Rlight were also positively correlated with rates of Rubisco activity and nitrogen concentration. Light inhibition resulted in a marked decrease in the proportion of light-saturated photosynthesis respired (i.e. reduced R/Asat). Collectively, these results highlight the need to account for light inhibition when assessing impacts of global change drivers on the carbon economy of tree canopies.