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Hampton mayor travels to Dubai for COP28 climate conference

Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck poses at the COP28 climate conference earlier this month in Dubai. (Photo courtesy of Donnie Tuck)
Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck poses at the COP28 climate conference earlier this month in Dubai. (Photo courtesy of Donnie Tuck)

Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck recently returned from a trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where he participated in the global climate conference known as COP28.

More formally that’s the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Tuck was one 150 mayors there from more than 50 countries, he said. The costs of traveling were covered by the hosts.

WHRO caught up with Tuck to hear about his experience representing Hampton at the event. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

WHRO: Tell me how you came to be a part of this international event.

Donnie Tuck: Well, since about 2021, I've been involved with various sessions and meetings sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. One was Harvard Bloomberg Mayor's City Leadership Initiative back in 2021. Then earlier this year I was invited to CityLab ‘23 in Washington, D.C.. At that conference, I got an email inviting me to go to Dubai by Bloomberg Philanthropies. 

This is the first year they've invited, actually, leaders of local and state governments to participate. COP28 is generally, as I understand it, it's more or less international. For this particular year we were there, the idea being that, we want to try and make sure that the effort to address climate change is more at the local level. At the national level a lot of times it's politicized. But if you look at what's happening at local, regional levels, those folks are probably more impacted. And so I think they wanted more of a voice from local leaders.

WHRO: So how did it go? What did you do there and what was Dubai like?

DT: I mean, it's a fascinating place. If you want to talk about opulence, they’ve got it twenty-fold. High end automobiles, high end buildings, high end hotels. It's just an amazing place to visit.

There were different roundtables and then there were sessions where you can ask questions. But it was basically just talking about what we're doing in Hampton, how we're financing it, where we are in our projects, what our priorities are. And again, those vary from other localities. Some were dealing with flooding as well, but others were dealing with drought conditions, water supply. Others were talking about what they're doing now to reduce their carbon footprint, which is a big part of the conference.

WHRO: Tell me about how Hampton specifically is affected by climate change and the work the city’s done to combat it.

DT: I think in Hampton we don't really look at climate change, but we are impacted. We have intense hurricanes that at least threaten our area. But for us, I think it's the melting ice caps and that's causing the sea level rise. And so we're really threatened by that. There are projections that by the end of the century, we may see a rise of some 3 feet. 

One of the things we try to do to try and at least adapt to that is we raised the standard of the first floor height. We have three projects that we've already designed and one that's already being implemented, which is to try and create a storage area for more rainwater off LaSalle Avenue. If we have a significant storm event, people are aware that you can't pass Home Depot if you're going northbound because (of) all the water that floods the streets there. So we're looking at trying to create capacity for stormwater runoff. We're looking at possibly elevating Armistead Avenue. And then we've got other projects that we're looking at for our downtown, for Buckroe and for the Phoebus area.

Different areas are being affected differently. And so it was an opportunity to come together to talk about some of the things we're doing, best practices, as well as, again, to try and inform those who are above us at higher levels, that it’s a real thing that's going on with our localities and we need to try and address it.

WHRO: What lessons from COP28 are you bringing back to Hampton?

DT: One (is) certainly getting input from our youth, strategies for engaging more of our young people. Then it was identifying problems in neighborhoods and providing strategies for addressing those problems. I think a major concern was the fact that you have underserved communities and that those are ones that are perhaps more vulnerable just because they haven't had the resources put into them. Also setting expectations, how to restructure engagements, opening doors for new industries, collaboration by mayors. I think that's a big part of it, too. 

And I think what we're doing are good things; we’re doing the right things. We're dealing (with) what's facing us here in Hampton Roads, which is the sea level rise and generally repetitive flooding. Talk to mayors in Texas and in Arizona, and they're talking about the intense heat. Texas is also faced with the drought, water supply issue. So we're not having to do that in Hampton, but who knows?

Katherine is WHRO’s climate and environment reporter. She came to WHRO from the Virginian-Pilot in 2022. Katherine is a California native who now lives in Norfolk and welcomes book recommendations, fun science facts and of course interesting environmental news.

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