Cincinnati becomes the first U.S city to publish a ClimateOS dashboard. To meet their climate action goals, Cincinnati will now focus on gathering the necessary funds. They explore federal legislation, private-public partnerships and innovative solutions.
With equity, justice and innovation at heart and nearly 5.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to remove in the coming decades – the task will require as much economic forecasting as climate planning. And they start the journey with wind in the sails.
Cincinnati has worked on inclusive environmental planning since 2008, focusing on equity, inclusion and now digitalization of their Climate Action Plan using SaaS technology. They have surprised many in the Midwest with their innovative approach to both climate and tech. What's more, their 2050 emission target just jumped from 80% reduction to 100% reduction by 2050. Today, the team feels confident in aiming high.
Now that it’s time to start seeking investments, Robert McCracken (Energy Manager) and Oliver Kroner (Director) at the Office of Environment & Sustainability say: “For so long we have had to be scrappy as we pursue grants and partnerships to make things happen. At this moment, we see the federal legislation as a giant boost of support. I think we're recognizing that we need more capacity to make the most of the opportunity of the day.” They focus on continuing to understand what types of financing options are out there. Oliver adds:
“For-profit entities with a climate focus are coming forward. There’s more market appetite than we've seen in the past. And we have to figure out what to do with that.”
This year has seen a burst of U.S federal funding coming available. The team is certain that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Infrastructure Bill) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are going to help them along the way. Legislation can help with matching funds and aggregating projects. They are preparing to take advantage of provisions in the Infrastructure Bill to advance work related to electric vehicle charging and environmental and climate justice. The IRA restructures the incentives local governments can utilize for renewable energy projects, changing the way cities can finance clean energy projects. The Federal Government’s Justice 40 Initiative makes a commitment that 40% of these funds benefit disadvantaged communities, which supports Cincinnati’s efforts toward climate equity. Oliver finishes: “We're going to have to be very strategic about where to invest time to pursue those funds, and how to implement our programmes.”
In the city operations, Cincinnati has seen pretty significant public-private partnerships. They see more and more initiative amongst for-profit actors interested in the climate space. “There’s more market appetite than we've seen in the past”, Oliver gives a few examples: “When we look at our solar project, that is a power purchase agreement partnership between the government and for-profit solar developers. When we look at our energy efficiency work we are doing at our facilities, those are the result of contracts with private investors finding energy and cost savings in that work.” They both agree that there is more interest than ever before. “For-profit entities with a climate focus are coming forward", Ollie concludes: "There’s more market appetite than we've seen in the past. And we have to figure out what to do with that.”
Apart from recent legislation, the team is looking for innovative methods that other cities use, whether in the US or globally. They see many ways that the city climate financing process can be made fit-for-future. “Instead of a cost-return analysis, you could create a cost-benefit analysis, right?” Oliver starts, “If the mindset shifts from: we have to save the city budget, to: we have to maximize public good.” There's still an economic case there – but it's a different economic case.
This is where working with partners and engaging with city networks and sharing best practices is key to success. “A tool like ClimateOS allows us to really show our impact front and center. Basically, here is how funding these types of programs will help us decrease carbon.”
Politically, Ohio has been a swing state, offering a moderate approach to governance. When it comes to climate action and the tech industry, Ohio is not known for being at the forefront. Cincinnati, on the other hand, has proven to be a leader in both.
The team’s next step is to finalize their 2023 Green Cincinnati Plan (local CAP) while working on innovative solutions to finance the transition. From tapping into U.S federal legislation funds to private sector collaboration, and ensuring their 100% carbon neutral goal is met.
The goals – and rewards – are higher than ever before within city climate action in Ohio. With increased aims for 2050 and a ClimateOS board hot off the press, Cincinnati just showed how serious they are. With their city-wide climate work available transparently online, they have leapfrogged into a new role: climate pioneer.