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Workshop: NeurIPS 2023 Workshop on Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning: Blending New and Existing Knowledge Systems

The built environment and induced transport emissions: A double machine learning approach to account for residential self-selection

Florian Nachtigall · Felix Wagner · Peter Berrill · Felix Creutzig


Understanding why travel behavior differs between residents of urban centers and suburbs is key to sustainable urban planning. Especially in light of rapid urban growth, identifying housing locations that minimize travel demand and induced emissions is crucial to mitigate climate change. While the built environment plays an important role, the precise impact on travel behavior is obfuscated by residential self-selection.To address this issue, we propose a double machine learning approach to obtain unbiased, spatially-explicit estimates of the effect of the built environment on travel-related emissions for each neighborhood by controlling for residential self-selection. We examine how socio-demographics and travel-related attitudes moderate the effect and how it decomposes across the 5Ds of the built environment. Based on a case study for Berlin and the travel diaries of 32,000 residents, we find that the built environment causes household travel-related emissions to differ by a factor of almost two between central and suburban neighborhoods in Berlin. To highlight the practical importance for urban climate mitigation, we evaluate current plans for 64,000 new residential units in terms of total induced transport emissions. Our findings underscore the significance of compact development to decarbonize the transport sector.

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