Naima Te Maile

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

Dear IUCN Members,

I am writing to request that you vote in favor of Motion 003 to create a Climate Crisis Commission. My name is Naima Te Maile, and I am one of the many “drowning voices.”

It started with a conversation I had with my grandfather ten years ago. Sitting on the lanai of our Honolulu apartment, I vividly recall asking him how he felt about the fact that Tuvalu, his homeland, may soon disappear due to sea-level rise. Looking out onto the traffic below, he replied, “It will never be ‘gone.’”

A few years later in my high school environmental science course, Tuvalu’s precarious position as a small-island state (SIS) was discussed. I’ll never forget how, upon hearing the teacher describe it as a “sinking island,” I fought back tears of indignation at the insensitivity of the label. Meeting people who knew of Tuvalu

was rare and the few who did seemed only to know it for its impending demise. I knew Tuvalu wasn’t sinking. Yet somehow, it and other nations facing a similar peril, had earned this reputation – implying that they themselves were at fault, and worse, their submersion inevitable. In truth, global sea-levels are rising and SIS, like Tuvalu, are victims of uncontrolled consumption and pollution. Their survival is questionable because the world’s main polluters are resistant to reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases and taking the necessary steps toward keeping a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Around this time a rallying cry emerged from the Paris Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21) in 2015: “Save Tuvalu, Save the World”. Suddenly, the plight of SIS was front page news. Often regarded as an insignificant voice in the international climate change discourse, now the Tuvaluan delegation, led by Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, insisted on being heard and issued world leaders a sobering warning: Tuvalu may be the first submerged nation due to global warming, but this crisis will eventually cripple all nations, if unattended. Here, a country with a land mass of only ten square miles was fighting with all its might to secure its future, without compromising its geographic worth and identity.

Today, my family is at even greater risk of losing their homes, their land, their culture, their languages and traditions. They, like other Pacific Island families, ventured far from Tuvalu seeking advanced education, healthcare and business opportunities, and while decisions to leave may not have been climate change-related, any consideration of returning home is certainly influenced by Tuvalu’s future prospects.

Motion 003, in its original post-comment form, emphasized the critical need to address the issues of climate change through a commission -- not a task force. Most unusually, however, the request to maintain a task force was made and granted after the commenting period, thereby recreating an essentially futile and redundant motion that will continue to proclaim the all-too familiar warning that climate change is “real” -- an “impending threat to our global society.” A task force is limited to making such proclamations; a commission, however, would enable members to apply the learnings from the past task force and leading climate experts to our current situation with meaningful, actionable steps, and promote effective and lasting change.

My perspective as a Tuvaluan by blood and an American by birth has enabled me to be critical yet empathetic on the issue of climate change and its consequences – qualities I seek to apply to my work as a legal student and future lawyer. Indeed, my aim is to effectively serve the interests of those whose land is at risk of becoming uninhabitable. To ensure my grandfather’s declaration that Tuvalu “will never be ‘gone’” holds true, I will do my part. All my life, I have soaked in his lessons and stories of Tuvalu not only out of love and admiration, but in part due to a sense of angst and fear that one day, this opportunity may cease to exist. Because of climate change, the islands of my ancestors, once completely self-sustaining and lush with vegetation enough to feed the families of multiple villages, are inundated by the ocean. Will I get to see Te Maile, the island where my grandfather grew up, later took my mother to when she was an infant, and the appellation he gifted me as a child?

I urge you, who have committed yourselves to the IUCN Mission Statement -- “To conserve nature” -- to consider what a new climate crisis commission will mean not just for my generation, but for generations to come. I urge you to vote in favor of Motion 003.


Naima Te Maile

J.D. Candidate, Class of 2023

William S. Richardson School of Law

University of Hawai'i at Mānoa

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