Buildings and Cities

From Climate Change AI Wiki
This page is about the intersection of urban planning and machine learning in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation. For an overview of buildings and cities as a whole, please see the Wikipedia page on this topic.
A schematic of selected opportunities to reduce greenhouse emissions from buildings and cities using machine learning. From "Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning."[1]

Buildings offer some of the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to reducing GHG emissions. While the energy consumed in buildings is responsible for a quarter of global energy-related emissions,[2] a combination of easy-to-implement fixes and state-of-the-art strategies could reduce emissions for existing buildings by up to 90%.[3] It is possible today for buildings to consume almost no energy.[4] Many of these energy efficiency measures actually result in overall cost savings[5] and simultaneously yield other benefits, such as cleaner air for occupants. This potential can be achieved while maintaining the services that buildings provide – and even while extending them to more people, as climate change will necessitate. For example, with the changing climate, more people will need access to air conditioning in regions where deadly heat waves will become common.[6][7]

Two major challenges are heterogeneity and inertia. Buildings vary according to age, construction, usage, and ownership, so optimal strategies vary widely depending on the context. For instance, buildings with access to cheap, low-carbon electricity may have less need for expensive features such as intelligent light bulbs. Buildings also have very long lifespans; thus, it is necessary both to create new, energy-efficient buildings, and to retrofit old buildings to be as efficient as possible.[8] Urban planning and public policy can play a major role in reducing emissions by providing infrastructure, financial incentives, or energy standards for buildings.

Machine learning provides critical tools for supporting both building managers and policy makers in their efforts to reduce GHG emissions. At the level of building management, ML can help select strategies that are tailored to individual buildings, and can also contribute to implementing those strategies via smart control systems.[1] At the level of urban planning, ML can be used to gather and make sense of data to inform policy makers. In addition, ML can help cities as a whole to transition to low-carbon futures.[1]

Machine Learning Application Areas

Optimizing buildings

  • Modeling building energy: A better understanding of how energy is used within buildings can help inform efficiency-promoting interventions. For example, there are opportunities to improve energy demand forecasts, disaggregation of appliance energy consumption, and characterization of efficiency measures.
  • Smart buildings: Machine learning can inform optimal control for systems within buildings, allowing reductions in energy use. For example, model-predictive control can increase the efficiency of HVAC systems.

Urban planning

  • Modeling energy use across buildings: District-level modeling of building energy use can lead to even greater efficiency improvements, compared to modeling of individual buildings, because they can support district heating and cooling as well as target retrofit campaigns.
  • Gathering infrastructure data: Machine learning can support data generation of relevant infrastructure data, transforming raw street-view or satellite imagery into estimates of climate-critical metrics, like prevalence of photovoltaic adoption or change in building footprints.

The future of cities

  • Data for smart cities: A variety of city services are now guided by data streams coming from dedicated sensors (e.g., traffic cameras) or indirectly through sources like mobile phones. These services can help inform actions to reduce energy footprints and increase resilience.
  • Low-emissions infrastructure: Machine learning can strengthen the ties between the different components of urban infrastructure, like public transportation and building developments, in a way that reduces overall carbon footprints.

Background Readings

Relevant IPCC chapters

  • Chapter 9: "Buildings" in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (2014)[9]: An overview of issues related to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the buildings sector.
  • Chapter 12: "Human Settlements, Infrastructure and Spatial Planning" in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (2014)[10]: An overview of issues related to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from urban areas.

Academic perspectives

  • Six research priorities for cities and climate change, Bai, X., et al. (2018)[11]: Leading urban sustainability researchers call for long-term, cross-disciplinary studies to reduce carbon emissions and urban risks from global warming.
  • Sustainability in an urbanizing planet, by Seto, K C., et al. (2017)[12]: This introduction to a special issue in PNAS enumerates key common themes, knowledge gaps and research priorities towards sustainability in an urbanizing planet.
  • Carbon lock-in: types, causes, and policy implications, by Seto, K,C., et al. (2016)[13]: This is an authoritative review of carbon lock-ins, the phenomenon of inertia in carbon emissions, for example due to long-lived infrastructure, and which a key issue for climate change mitigation in cities.
  • The urban south and the predicament of global sustainability, by Nagendra, H,, et al.(2018)[14]: This piece highlights the challenges to achieve sustainability in cities from the Global South. The authors call for a renewed research focus, and targeted efforts to correct structural biases in the knowledge production system.
  • Internet of Things: Energy boon or bane?, by Hittinger, E,, and Jaramillo, P. (2019)[15]: This short piece discussed direct and indirect impacts on energy systems of Internet of Things technologies.

Perspectives in popular media

  • The air conditioning trap: how cold air is heating the world[16]: This 'long read' from the Guardian introduces the issue of indoors cooling in a warming world, and interlinkages between climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Online Courses and Course Materials

  • Management of Urban Infrastructures, by EPFL, on Coursera. Learn how to develop management practices that effectively integrate the processes of urban planning with urban infrastructures planning and management for sustainable and resilient cities. Course available here.
  • Planning for Climate Change in African Cities, by a consortium, on Coursera: Learn the foundations for understanding African cities’ exposure and sensitivity to climate change, and how cities can manage these impacts in the face of growing uncertainty. The course has a focus on adaptation but is also relevant to understand African cities in the context of climate change mitigation. Course available here.
  • Co-Creating Sustainable Cities, by TU Delft and Wageningen University, on edX: Learn how citizens can be co-creators of sustainable cities when they engage in city politics or in the design of the urban environment and its technologies and infrastructure. Course available here.
  • Renewable Energy and Green Building Entrepreneurship, by Duke University, on Coursera: Learn about the tools, trends, and tips from the field of entrepreneurship as a career path for making a difference and generating wealth in the renewable energy and green building sectors. Course available here.
  • Set of courses on Sustainable Buildings Systems, by TU Delft, on edX: Learn about different ways to reduce energy use in buildings without compromising occupant comfort, in a series of courses from a leading Dutch university. Courses available on Energy Demand in Buildings, Efficient HVAC Systems, Energy Supply Systems for Buildings and more on the edX website.


Major conferences

Major journals

Major societies and organizations

Libraries and Tools

building energy modelling stuff

urban mobility

urban form: osmnx, momepy,..



TODO format

Building energy use

City metabolism

The "metabolism" of a city includes the electricity used, waste generated, and GHG emitted.

Urban Land Use, Infrastructure Data


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. IPCC. Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Portner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, Y. Chen, S. Connors, ¨ M. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, J. B. R. Matthews, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Pean, R. Pidcock, N. Reay, M. Tignor, T. ´ Waterfield, X. Zhou (eds.)]. 2018.
  3. Urge-Vorsatz, Diana; Petrichenko, Ksenia; Staniec, Maja; Eom, Jiyong (2013-06). "Energy use in buildings in a long-term perspective". Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 5 (2): 141–151. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2013.05.004. ISSN 1877-3435. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. Olsthoorn, Mark; Schleich, Joachim; Faure, Corinne (2019-06). "Exploring the diffusion of low-energy houses: An empirical study in the European Union". Energy Policy. 129: 1382–1393. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2019.03.043. ISSN 0301-4215. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. Stephenson, Janet; Barton, Barry; Carrington, Gerry; Gnoth, Daniel; Lawson, Rob; Thorsnes, Paul (2010-10). "Energy cultures: A framework for understanding energy behaviours". Energy Policy. 38 (10): 6120–6129. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2010.05.069. ISSN 0301-4215. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. Mora, Camilo; Counsell, Chelsie W.W.; Bielecki, Coral R.; Louis, Leo V (2017-11). "Twenty-Seven Ways a Heat Wave Can Kill You:". Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 10 (11). doi:10.1161/circoutcomes.117.004233. ISSN 1941-7713. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. Mora, Camilo; Dousset, Bénédicte; Caldwell, Iain R.; Powell, Farrah E.; Geronimo, Rollan C.; Bielecki, Coral R.; Counsell, Chelsie W. W.; Dietrich, Bonnie S.; Johnston, Emily T.; Louis, Leo V.; Lucas, Matthew P. (2017-06-19). "Global risk of deadly heat". Nature Climate Change. 7 (7): 501–506. doi:10.1038/nclimate3322. ISSN 1758-678X.
  8. Creutzig, Felix; Agoston, Peter; Minx, Jan C.; Canadell, Josep G.; Andrew, Robbie M.; Quéré, Corinne Le; Peters, Glen P.; Sharifi, Ayyoob; Yamagata, Yoshiki; Dhakal, Shobhakar (2016-11-24). "Urban infrastructure choices structure climate solutions". Nature Climate Change. 6 (12): 1054–1056. doi:10.1038/nclimate3169. ISSN 1758-678X.
  9. "Lucon O., D. Ürge-Vorsatz, A. Zain Ahmed, H. Akbari, P. Bertoldi, L.F. Cabeza, N. Eyre, A. Gadgil, L.D.D. Harvey, Y. Jiang, E. Liphoto, S. Mirasgedis, S. Murakami, J. Parikh, C. Pyke, and M.V. Vilariño, 2014: Buildings. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA" (PDF). line feed character in |title= at position 127 (help)
  10. "Seto K.C., S. Dhakal, A. Bigio, H. Blanco, G.C. Delgado, D. Dewar, L. Huang, A. Inaba, A. Kansal, S. Lwasa, J.E. McMahon, D.B. Müller, J. Murakami, H. Nagendra, and A. Ramaswami, 2014: Human Settlements, Infrastructure and Spatial Planning. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA" (PDF). line feed character in |title= at position 122 (help)
  11. Bai, Xuemei; Dawson, Richard J.; Ürge-Vorsatz, Diana; Delgado, Gian C.; Barau, Aliyu Salisu; Dhakal, Shobhakar; Dodman, David; Leonardsen, Lykke; Masson-Delmotte, Valérie; Roberts, Debra C.; Schultz, Seth (2018-03). "Six research priorities for cities and climate change". Nature. 555 (7694): 23–25. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-02409-z. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. Seto, Karen C.; Golden, Jay S.; Alberti, Marina; Turner, B. L. (2017-08-22). "Sustainability in an urbanizing planet". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114 (34): 8935–8938. doi:10.1073/pnas.1606037114. ISSN 0027-8424. PMID 28784798.
  13. Seto, Karen C.; Davis, Steven J.; Mitchell, Ronald B.; Stokes, Eleanor C.; Unruh, Gregory; Ürge-Vorsatz, Diana (2016-11). "Carbon Lock-In: Types, Causes, and Policy Implications". Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 41 (1): 425–452. doi:10.1146/annurev-environ-110615-085934. ISSN 1543-5938. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  14. Nagendra, Harini; Bai, Xuemei; Brondizio, Eduardo S.; Lwasa, Shuaib (2018-07). "The urban south and the predicament of global sustainability". Nature Sustainability. 1 (7): 341–349. doi:10.1038/s41893-018-0101-5. ISSN 2398-9629. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. Hittinger, Eric; Jaramillo, Paulina (2019-04-26). "Internet of Things: Energy boon or bane?". Science. 364 (6438): 326–328. doi:10.1126/science.aau8825. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 31023909.
  16. "The air conditioning trap: how cold air is heating the world, The Guardian 'Long Read'".