The UK government has recently set a target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, from 1990 levels, by 2050. Local authorities are central to national efforts to cut carbon emissions, although the reductions required at city-wide scales are yet to be set. This has led to a need for reliable data to help establish and underpin realistic carbon emission targets and reduction trajectories, along with acceptable and robust policies for meeting these goals.

This paper illustrates the potential benefits of accounting for, mapping and appropriately managing aboveground vegetation carbon stores, even within a typical densely urbanized European city. It examines the quantities and spatial patterns of above-ground carbon stored in a typical British city, Leicester, by surveying vegetation across the entire urban area.  It also considers how carbon density differs in domestic gardens, indicative of bottom-up management of private green spaces by householders, and public land, representing top-down landscape policies by local authorities. Finally, it compares the national ecosystem service map with the estimated quantity and distribution of above-ground carbon within the study city of Leicester, UK.

An estimated 231,521 tonnes of carbon is stored within the above-ground vegetation of Leicester, equating to 3.16 kg C per m2 of urban area, with 97.3% of this carbon pool being associated with trees rather than herbaceous and woody vegetation. Comparison with current national estimates of this ecosystem service undervalue Leicester’s contribution by an order of magnitude.

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