Marshall Islands 18-year-old thanks UN for climate pact

Selina Leem delivers emotional message from family and friends on tiny Pacific state, as 195 countries agree new pact to slow global warming

By Selina Leem

My name is Selina Leem and I am a small island girl with big dreams from the island of Majuro in the Marshall Islands.  

I am only 18 years old but ever since I can remember, I have felt nervous about my home.  I have always been hearing my island is changing, that it’s not the same as what it used to be when my parents and my grandparents were growing up.

 I remember, back when I was six or seven, my grandpa, told me a story about our islands being submerged by water.  I had never been scared of the water because I practically grew up surrounded by it, but I remember it was during those moments where I felt immense fear by the water.

It dawned on me as I would stand on that only one road on Majuro that on my left is water, and on my right is water.  I am surrounded by water.

Maybe it was his way of reprimanding me when I was misbehaving or maybe, he was simply telling the truth.  I do not know.  He never got to tell me, nor did I get to ask him.

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He told me about how the earth was warming, even at the young age, I could notice that it has indeed gotten warmer.

He would say to me the ice in the North Pole and South Pole where Santa lives will all soon melt and as they melt, the water will rise and soon flood our islands.  We used to have king tides annually, but he said they will become stronger and larger and more frequent.

And he was telling the truth.  The king tides did get stronger, they did get larger, and they did get more frequent.

The coconut leaf I wear on my hair and I hold up in my hand is from the Marshall Islands.  I wear them in today in hope of keeping them for my children and my grandchildren – these simple strands of coconut leaf.

There are many leaders around this room who share with me – with us – this hope for saving our world, and are wearing a little piece of the Marshall Islands today.

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I hope you keep it and show it to your children and grandchildren, and tell them a new story about how you helped a little island and the whole world today.

This agreement is for those of us whose identity, whose culture, whose ancestors, whose whole being, is bound to their lands.

I have only spoken about myself and my islands but the same story will play out everywhere in the world.  If this is a story about our islands, it is a story for the whole world.

Sometimes when you want to make a change, then it is necessary to turn the world upside down.  Because it is not for the better, but it is simply for the best.

This Agreement should be the turning point in our story; a turning point for all of us.

Read more on: COP21