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U.S. mayors and governors are in Dubai to discuss climate change


Leaders from around the world are gathered in Dubai for COP 28, the U.N.'s annual summit on climate action. They're trying to hammer out a plan for how to transition the world away from fossil fuels. But the tough work of actually implementing that plan, if one emerges, won't be done in most places by prime ministers and presidents. It will fall to leaders who are closer to the ground, like mayors. More than 250 governors and mayors are at COP 28 now. Six are from the U.S., and one of them is Barbara Buffaloe, who is the mayor of Columbia, Mo., and Mayor Buffaloe is with us now from Dubai. Mayor, hello. Thank you so much for joining us.

BARBARA BUFFALOE: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: I read a headline in the Riverfront Times that called Missouri a, quote, "top state for climate disasters," unquote. Why is that?

BUFFALOE: When people talk about climate change and the impacts on communities, they're thinking of things like, you know, hurricanes and big flooding in coastal areas. As the mayor of a mid-sized, landlocked city, I'm also experiencing the effects of climate change. You know, we're having a lot hotter summers. Just last year, we had a rain event, which was a historic rain event. It caused over almost $1 million in flooding issues to our road infrastructure and to our trail system, and we're not expecting that, right? We're not ready for those events to happen. And by us coming together and sharing those experiences, we're going to see hopeful action to find the solutions to really improve our cities for our residents.

MARTIN: So Columbia passed the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in 2019, and I understand that the council is looking at a proposal for the city to use 100% renewable sources by 2030, like, how's that going?

BUFFALOE: That one's a tricky one. We're a municipal electric utility, which some might say - some of my other mayors might be like, oh, jealous. And I was like, no, it's just as hard. It's still just the same. You know, when we talk about this, we basically have asked for our utility to give us - we want to be aggressive with meeting our goals of renewable energy. At the same time, we're also conscious over the cost. I'm thankful right now that we've seen a lot of investment in the infrastructure within the region for renewable energy, and hopefully we'll see more wind farms and solar farms and other sources coming onto the grid. But we've been experiencing a backlog. There's a waiting list. So that's why I like to prioritize energy efficiency and really thinking about how can we make our environments cleaner and more efficient before we have to purchase renewables?

MARTIN: People are always mad when mayors travel. They're, you know, and, I mean, somebody's always mad.


MARTIN: They're like, why aren't you here to do this thing - this one thing.


MARTIN: But one of the reasons that people do travel is so that they can get ideas and inspiration from their colleagues around the country or around the world who are dealing with similar things.

BUFFALOE: Exactly.

MARTIN: Have you heard anything in Dubai that kind of got you excited or energized or something that you can kind of bring back to Colombia right away?

BUFFALOE: Just hearing some of the success stories from around the U.S. has been inspiring to me, especially getting to meet with some of my federal partners to find out where it is that the federal government is leaning, because when they're going for a new program, I want to bring those resources back to Colombia so that we can do them. But also, I've just been inspired by so many different nations that are here. And they're, you know, a lot are in their traditional dress. And getting to talk with them about what they're doing for their families and their neighbors within their communities - like, we talked to this - the village in Africa who was talking about the importance of solar stoves for women's health, because as women are in the homes and they're doing all the cooking, having the older stoves are affecting their own health.

And so listening to what they were doing there, that they're seeing the benefits both for the community, like as the world for reducing emissions, but also, for that individual mother's health. I think that's inspiring to talk about. It makes me thankful for what I've been given in the United States and what my community has, but also understanding the role I play in this larger scheme of working together with communities across the world to really make it better so that everybody's health is improved.

MARTIN: That is Mayor Barbara Buffaloe of Columbia, Mo. As we mentioned, she is part of a large contingent of governors and mayors meeting at the COP 28 summit in Dubai. We reached her there. Mayor Buffaloe, thanks so much for talking to us.

BUFFALOE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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