Gross Direct and Embodied Carbon Sinks for Urban Inventories


  • Eugene Mohareb,

  • Christopher Kennedy

Eugene Mohareb, University of Toronto, Department of Civil Engineering, 35 St. George St., Toronto M5S 1A4, Canada.


Cities and urban regions are undertaking efforts to quantify greenhouse (GHG) emissions from their jurisdictional boundaries. Although inventorying methodologies are beginning to standardize for GHG sources, carbon sequestration is generally not quantified. This article describes the methodology and quantification of gross urban carbon sinks.

Sinks are categorized into direct and embodied sinks. Direct sinks generally incorporate natural process, such as humification in soils and photosynthetic biomass growth (in urban trees, perennial crops, and regional forests). Embodied sinks include activities associated with consumptive behavior that result in the import and/or storage of carbon, such as landfilling of waste, concrete construction, and utilization of durable wood products.

Using methodologies based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2006 guidelines (for direct sinks) and peer-reviewed literature (for embodied sinks), carbon sequestration for 2005 is calculated for the Greater Toronto Area. Direct sinks are found to be 317 kilotons of carbon (kt C), and are dominated by regional forest biomass. Embodied sinks are calculated to be 234 kt C based on one year's consumption, though a complete life cycle accounting of emissions would likely transform this sum from a carbon sink to a source. There is considerable uncertainty associated with the methodologies used, which could be addressed with city-specific stock-change measurements. Further options for enhancing carbon sink capacity within urban environments are explored, such as urban biomass growth and carbon capture and storage.