Maria Tiimon, originally from Kiribati, now lives in Sydney, where she works for an NGO raising awareness of climate change issues in the Pacific. Her spiritual home is the small Kiribati atoll of Beru where her father lives – a proud village elder, whom Maria idolises.
Maria travels with a delegation to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. Here, the low-lying Island States led by Kiribati’s smaller neighbour Tuvalu, push for a new treaty requiring all nations, not only the west, but also India and China, to agree on carbon emission reductions to keep global temperature from rising above 1.5C. But evidence emerges of pressure by Australian officials on the Pacific nations to withdraw their bid, which ends up scuttled.
Back in Kiribati, storms have caused major damage. Part of a seawall protecting the community of Tebikenikoora has been swept away. Every peak high tide the village is flooded with seawater and this time houses were shifted and gardens and fruit trees ruined. President Anote Tong is acutely aware of these problems, but his government lacks the resources to fix them.
As months go by, funds pledged at Copenhagen to help poorer and vulnerable countries adapt to climate change haven’t materialised. Seawalls are still crumbling and whole villages are demanding that the government move them.
Maria accompanies a delegation to Kiribati led by Australian indigenous leader Pat Dodson who meets the President. It seems now that relocation is the only option. “We have to assume the worst”, Tong tells the delegation.
Suddenly Maria’s personal life interrupts her advocacy work. Her father is very sick so she must leave for Kiribati immediately. However, Maria has been developing a relationship with a young policeman and, following tradition, Maria takes him to Beru to meet her father.
Maria’s work takes her to Germany and Cancun for the next Climate Change Conference where it becomes clear her confidence has developed in the 12 months since she addressed school groups back in Sydney.