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Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Civil Society Representative from the Marshall Islands, addresses the Climate Summit, at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
“We are drawing the line here on climate change.”

This young mother’s poem about her vanishing country stunned the world’s leaders

By Daniel A. Medina

Of the dozens of speeches by world leaders, advocates, and movie stars at the UN climate summit on Tuesday, none garnered as strong a reaction as that of the poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner.

The 26-year-old from the Marshall Islands, a tiny Pacific nation, recited a poem she wrote for her 7-month-old daughter. To a hushed audience, she told of a homeland under grave threat from a rising ocean: “We look at our children and wonder how they will know themselves or their culture, should they lose our islands.”

The Marshall Islands, which sits about halfway between the US state of Hawaii and Australia, is comprised of a set of low-lying, ring-shaped islands, none higher than 6 feet above sea level. The Marshall Islands’ foreign minister, Phillip Muller, told The Guardian last year, “The longer we wait, I’m afraid we may reach the point of no return.”

A UN official Twitter account said leaders “were brought to tears” by Jetnil-Kijiner’s words.

It remains to be seen, however, if the poem will spur any of the 100-plus world leaders in attendance to action.