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Northeast Ohio officials discuss takeaways from COP28 on renewable energy, implementation

Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne gesticulates as he speaks in front of the U.S. flag, the Ohio flag and the Cuyahoga County flag.
Michaelangelo's Photography
Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne addresses the audience on the banks of the Cuyahoga River during his first State of the County address on Friday, June 30, 2023.

A delegation from Cleveland attended the United Nations' COP28 summit in Dubai in early December, including representatives from city and county government. Members of the delegation were guests on Tuesday's the Sound of Ideas, during which they discussed the recent conference.

The annual summit emphasized the need for a shift to renewable energy and the importance of a multi-sector approach to climate conversations, Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne said, that includes federal, state and local government.

“Cities are where the innovation is actually happening,” Ronayne said. “To see counties, cities, states, you know, metro areas working together on solutions, there are small change issues that can add up to big change solution.”

Ronayne says the county is implementing these solutions in “batches” by increasing renewable energy options, decarbonizing transit and improving walkability.

“We launched the Cuyahoga Green Energy, you know, which is a which is a, going to be a county utility that provides alternative ways for people to power their homes,” Ronayne said. “That's just one way that we can do our part to reduce the amount of carbon emissions here.”

Climate change should be a bipartisan issue, said Michael Jeans, CEO of Growth Opportunity Partners, which works in businesses and community partners to promote development and equity. Michael Jeans said. Doing so would ensure Cleveland has the resources to be environmentally responsible rather than attracting businesses that lack concern for climate action.

“In Ohio, we have an opportunity to attract and retain strong talent,” Jeans said. “We already have a number of students in our universities and our colleges here. We can keep them if we can depoliticize climate and make these investments together … then that compels our elected officials.”

It’s also important to ensure historically disenfranchised communities have a seat at the table, Jeans said, to hear their perspectives and experiences while fostering continued education and conversation.

“Those are also the places and the people who've absorbed the high emissions that of have maintained over time,” he said. “Those are also the communities that have been underinvested in, so the ability for their homes and their communities to be resilient hasn't seen investment over time.”

Northeast Ohio representatives also engage in conversations at the state-level to find ways to implement climate solutions for businesses that would provide economic benefits across the state, Greater Cleveland Partnership CEO Baiju Shah said, such as Cleveland Cliffs or the Intel plant in Columbus.

“We try to bring it back to, sort of, what do businesses want because it's about the market and serving the market's needs,” he said. “Then what jobs does that create or economic opportunity that does that create for Ohioans?”

Through its Community Choice Aggregation Program, municipalities like Cleveland are turning to renewable energy providers outside of Ohio in an effort to motivate the state to supply clean energy locally, Director of Sustainability for the city of Cleveland Sarah O’Keeffe said.

“Our residents, our small commercial businesses have opted into that program showing that they want green energy,” she O’Keeffe. “That is a signal to lawmakers in Columbus [that] we're not buying Ohio power that is green certified because it's not available at a cost that we want. So how do we capture that economic benefit here?”

The George Gund Foundation and the Cleveland Foundation funded the Cleveland delegation’s attendance at the COP28 summit in Dubai.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.