“We’re not ready yet to say goodbye.”
18 year old Selina Neirok Leem, youngest delegate at COP21 in Paris in 2015 and climate justice advocate from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, shares the real human experience of an islander threatened by climate change and global warming. Selina shares her reasons for hope and why women’s voices must be amplified in order to bring about sustainable change.
Sherah Beckley for Thomson Reuters Sustainability: How does your work contribute to global sustainability?
Selina Neirok Leem: My country, being on the forefront of climate change … I read an article where they said the temperature has already risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius, and what my country is fighting for is 1.5 degrees Celsius.
So if we continue on the pace that we’re going right now, by 2050, scientists have already predicted that my country will be no more, and so that’s a very sad thought for a lot of us Marshallese, and also for a lot of other countries that are vulnerable to climate change.
If it continues on, my country will be gone; but it doesn’t stop, because climate change will not be stopped. If you take action right now, it’ll be slowed down, but that does not mean it’ll stop.
So my country will disappear and, sooner or later, other countries will start disappearing, and there will be other bigger impacts that will happen in other countries, that haven’t really experienced what climate change is.
There was a meeting that I attended, and it was really interesting to see how the men and the women had very different perspectives on addressing this.
The men thought more about building infrastructures and addressing the economic side of the issue, whereas the women were thinking more about the plants that they need to regrow again. So they weren’t thinking about buildings and all these developments that they had to do; they were thinking about the sake of their kids and their land, in order to make it more sustainable, in order for the plants and the things that they live off of to continue on. And so that is one thing that I feel is very important, because women bring these into the whole justice arena, and I feel like they will contribute hugely to this fight.
SB: What do you tell the world at this critical time? What do you want them to know?
SNL: Yesterday, it was mentioned in one of the speeches, after the flag ceremony, that, out of the flags displayed, you’re probably not going to see some of them again in the next few years, if things continue.
That really hit me and made me sad. I got emotional. Wow – we’re fighting for this, we haven’t even said goodbye yet, we haven’t started preparing for that. But from the woman’s message, stating that we’re not going to see some of these flags –
…it’s already apparent that the rest of the world is already saying goodbye, even though we have not started to say goodbye. And so I just want to let the whole world know that, you might be ready to say goodbye, but our land is what we have, and we’re not ready yet to say goodbye.