Modelling the Sequestration Potential of Urban Carbon Sinks: A Case Study of Fairfax County, VA
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This capstone project presents a model for assessing the potential carbon removal a city can achieve by enhancing the sequestration potential of its direct and embodied carbon sinks. Applying the model to Fairfax County, Virginia, this study finds that varying the city’s policy options for managing its carbon sinks can have a small but measurable impact on its net carbon sequestration. Further, the study finds that maximizing the city’s carbon sequestration requires changing its policies as the city hits specific thresholds of renewable energy usage. At these thresholds, maintaining extant policies decreases the city’s net carbon sequestration: the city’s former carbon offsets become net carbon sources. This study demonstrates that the model can both identify the timeframe in which such a transition is expected to occur, and test new policy options to identify those that will maximize the city’s carbon sequestration at each stage of its transition to renewable energy. Modeling policy options in this way enables a city to plan its policy changes to achieve carbon neutrality more efficiently, or even explore the possibility of turning a city from a net carbon source to a net carbon sink in the future. This study builds on work by Mohareb & Kennedy (2012), who suggested that cities may be able to increase their carbon sequestration potential by changing their policies for managing direct and embodied carbon sinks. This study confirms that cities can change their carbon sequestration potential via policy changes, based on analysis of a subset of potential urban carbon sinks, and that a city’s policy choices may even determine whether the city acts as a long-term carbon source or sink for its embodied carbon. The model developed in this study could be expanded to include additional potential urban carbon sinks, and applied to other cities to inform their climate change mitigation plans.