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Why is Boise’s mayor at COP28? Lauren McLean visits Morning Edition from Dubai.

Bloomberg Philanthropies invited, and funded Boise Mayor Lauren McLean's trip to COP28 in Dubai. The trips of a select group of other U.S. mayors were also paid for my Bloomberg.
City of Boise
Bloomberg Philanthropies invited, and funded Boise Mayor Lauren McLean's trip to COP28 in Dubai. The trips of a select group of other U.S. mayors were also paid for my Bloomberg.

The confounding decision by the United Nations to have the petrostate of the United Arab Emirates host this year’s COP28(Conference of the Parties) is also a reflection of confounding choices made by nations addicted to fossil fuels.

But even the Broadway smash Hamilton, in the song “The Room Where it Happened,” reminds us that to get “parties to yes…” there are “the pieces sacrificed in every game of chess.”

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said she understood that all-to-well when she was invited, along with a select number of U.S. mayors to participate in the UN Climate Change Conference. In her daily hour-and-a-half train commute from hotel to the conference’s downtown Dubai center, she sees a smog-filled metropolis that emerged from a poor, dusty village.

McLean also said it’s about being “at the table,” not just with leaders of some of the planet’s greatest oil producers, but with leaders who are committed to limit the rise in average global temperatures.

“For the first time ever, mayors had a seat at the table, in talking about the action we’re committed to taking,” said McLean. “What I’m finding is that mayors and cities, much like ours – same size as ours … their residents are saying the same thing.”

Speaking from Dubai, McLean visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the funding for her trip, some key takeaways from COP28, Boise’s “stretch goals” to be carbon neutral, and networking with some of the planet’s most effective game-changers.

“It's a lot of advocating for the work that we're doing, as well as learning about other things we might want to try or be thinking about, and partnerships that we could leverage into the future.”
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean

Read the full transcript below:

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean at COP 28 in Dubai.
City of Boise
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean at COP 28 in Dubai.

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Hi, I'm George Prentice. While we count down the remaining days of the year, we should note that the UN’s weather agency says 2023 is all but certain to be the warmest year on record. This week and next, this broadcast continues to bring us reports from the UN's annual conference, COP28, from the United Arab Emirates. And that is also where we find Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. And while it is indeed morning here, it is early evening in Dubai. So ,let's welcome Mayor McLean back to this broadcast.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Hi, George. Hi, everybody. It's great to be chatting with you today.

PRENTICE: How did this happen? What are the mechanics of what brought you there?

MCLEAN: Great question, and one I’m really proud to be able to answer; a group of mayors were asked to join CCP28. And in addition to the mayors coming, they were asked to bring a key staffer who works on these issues. And for the first time ever, mayors had a seat at the table in talking about the action we're committed to taking.. to protecting our communities and preparing for the future, and talking about what could be done and learning from each other. And so, the Bloomberg Foundation, that has worked with our city and supported other work that we've done, offered to invest in the cities whose mayors and staff they invited to come over here. So, without spending Boise dollars, both Steve Burgos, who leads our Public Works Department and myself, have joined mayors from around the country and also mayors from around the world for the last several days to talk about climate action and what each of us in our cities and in our homes can do to advance the goals that our countries have.

PRENTICE: So again, Bloomberg is picking up the tab for this?

MCLEAN: Yes, indeed. The foundation.

PRENTICE: Our lives are tangled with so many distractions, year in and year out. What is your message… as far as keeping our eye on the ball, if you will… and not being distracted in understanding the urgency of this issue?

MCLEAN: I want to say first that I really believe that the message Boiseans have been so clear is…in our community, we must take action not only to prepare for the future in terms of modern zoning codes - we can live more closely together, build more efficiently - or passing the Clean Water and Climate Action Bond at 81%, so that we can make sure that we have water into the future or recycling the way they do. Boiseans know that we have to stay focused so that we can create opportunity not only for ourselves, but our kids, into the future. So, my message in general is just that. That this is about protecting the health of the people we love. It's about ensuring that our city is prepared into the future so that we can have good jobs and prosperity and opportunity for everyone. And what I'm finding is that mayors around the country, and cities much like ours, same size as ours, their residents are saying the same thing.

PRENTICE: I am certain that you have heard or read some of the conversation about the location for this year's conference. Do you think it was a good idea to put this year's conference in Dubai? Isn't the location some sense of distraction?

MCLEAN: I think about that every day because we are in a city that has grown and really came out of nothing in the last 20 years. And I look around and am reminded why it is important to build community so that you can connect with people. I look around and I'm reminded why we must do everything possible to keep our air clean. I look around and see so many people that have come here to do this work, many of whom are asking the same question: “Why here?” Now there's the technical reason of why. And it's because it moves, and it needed to be in this region. But ultimately I do believe that, just as I've asked our partners at the local level, our own utilities at the local level, to partner for climate solutions that everybody, every industry has to be willing to partner for climate solutions. But I have to say, as I look through the smog, and I feel it in my in my throat, and you've probably heard me cough a little bit, and look around at the city and know where the money came from…many of us have asked, “Why?” But then we're seeing it has been a very, very productive conversation, because everyone is so focused and recognizing that we've got to agree to solutions, whether it be in our cities as mayors that we're talking about, or at much higher levels with countries around the world.

PRENTICE: I want to give our listeners a takeaway. I want to give them something specific that we can do sooner than later. You've just been reelected to a new term of office…in many ways, it's an opportunity to refocus. Can you give us something specific that we can be doing differently, sooner than later, to turn the tide?

MCLEAN: Sure. And first off, George, I have to say, I've remained focused throughout all of this… and in the last four years, remain focused, and will continue to remain focused. And I'm so excited to work in common cause with Boise and for the next four years, to ensure that we do what we must to protect the city we love, not only for today, but into the future. And it takes all of us to make sure that we are doing what we must, to help the city transition to clean electricity, to help ensure that our buildings are built more efficiently. But the simple actions residents can take are…and there are so many…we could all pledge to take one less car trip and….you're a half-mile to that park or that grocery store, even a mile. See if you can take a walk one day a week rather than driving. I so appreciate the number of Boiseans that are recycling, and we are working to make sure that we can expand that programing to apartment complexes and other areas, because I know that Boiseans are saying they want more and we're going to work on that to make it happen. You can encourage, not only the Boise City Council, but the legislature, and the region to take action together… to solve some of our transportation issues…and to create funding sources so we can grow our bus system and our regional transit system, as so many want to be able to do. So, there's the basic stuff of reducing the number of times you get in the car. Do you really have to get in the car one more time? Or can you do it less to recycling and then to coming together and encouraging those that can make decisions to work together, to create the opportunities to build out transit… that will make all of our lives better.

PRENTICE: I have asked this many times, so I'd be remiss if I didn't ask again: With the City of Boise having a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, how are we doing? Are we going to meet that goal?

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean at COP28
City of Boise
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean at COP28

MCLEAN: Well, George, goals are stretch goals… always. We're going to work like crazy to make sure we meet that goal. But if I knew we were going to make it, there'd be no reason to set it… because we just do it. But instead, we are working hard with Boiseans to do everything we can to make sure that we make it, and ideally beat it. I want us to focus too on the first goal, and that is that we transition to being a city whose electricity mix is 100% clean. And we have a great partner in Idaho Power now. For city government, we said our goal would have 100% clean electricity by 2030. We are going to beat that goal. And then for our community, our goal is that we would have enough electricity for our community. That's 100% clean by 2035. So that is that first benchmark goal that we're working to achieve. And then from there, we will continue to work on being carbon neutral as a community… as communities around the country are doing…, because our residents know we must.

PRENTICE: You're there with other mayors…from which communities?

MCLEAN: I'm spending a lot of time with mayors for mid-sized cities and small cities, actually, from Lincoln, Nebraska. Madison, Wisconsin. Lansing, Michigan. Cincinnati, Ohio. There seem to be a lot of California mayors…I haven't spent as much time with them. Some mayors from Minnesota… quite a bit of mayors from the heartland….they have been working, just as we have, to prepare their communities for the future.

PRENTICE: And are you given daily prompts? I'm wondering what specifically you're doing. Are you problem-solving?

MCLEAN: So the first two days that we were here, we had what was called the Local Climate Action Summit. We listened to world and national leaders, as well as local leaders… from around the world that shared some of their own stories. The second day, the morning was spent in what's called a Mayor's Innovation Studio with just mayors, where we were problem-solving about how to more effectively and authentically engage the young people in our communities that expect us to be taking action to protect their futures, as well as different programs that cities were doing to meet their own climate goals. That afternoon, I spoke on a panel about work that we're doing in Boise…and had conversations with members of the administration about the work that we're doing and the funding that we're advocating for, as well as with foundations that fund community groups in this space…and looking at how they invest in cities to help cities meet their climate goals. It takes an hour-and-a-half from the time I leave my hotel and get on the metro, and you get through security, it is a long commute. I'm so glad I don't have to do that on a regular basis. That's why we all live in Boise. I've had multiple opportunities to tell Boise stories on panels, and then have had meetings as follow-ups with people that were in the room and a small group meeting today with the President's Climate Advisor…with the Undersecretary at the Department of Transportation. So, it's a lot of advocating for the work that we're doing, as well as learning about other things we might want to try or be thinking about, and partnerships that we could leverage into the future.

PRENTICE: And when will you be returning home?

MCLEAN: I leave Wednesday night and I get back Thursday.

PRENTICE: Boise Mayor Lauren McLean,,, from Dubai safe journey home.

MCLEAN: Thanks so much, George and I will talk to you soon.

Find reporter George Prentice on X @georgepren

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