SALT LAKE CITY — Selina Neriok Leem was stone-faced as she explained how she learned firsthand as a child what it’s like to leave behind her home to the threat of ocean waters.

“There were times I woke up with water gushing into my room,” she told over 100 visitors to the Salt Palace Convention Center at the 68th Annual United Nations Civil Society Conference on Tuesday during a panel discussion on climate change.

The youth delegate from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a chain of volcanic islands between Hawaii and Australia, told of how when she was young, her family evacuated their home due to yearly tide seasons that brought in flooding that broke through sea walls.

“I remember looking back at our house with no lights on ... my tears overflowing in my eyes as I fought the urge to break down,” Leem said, telling of how she prayed to God, asking, “Will it hurt this much when we might have to leave forever?”

Leem said her island community, where many islands are not even a meter above sea level, is at the “forefront of the existential crisis” of climate change. She cited scientists estimates that, based on current carbon emissions, her home could “disappear” under rising sea levels by the year 2050. More recently, United Nations scientists have warned there are now only 11 years left before the world misses its chance to get climate change under control.

Leem looked to the crowd of United Nations conference onlookers and told them she has now devoted her life to saving her home and communicating to the world she needs its help.

“We are saving it,” she said. “And the world, you inside this room, are obligated to help as well.”

Tuesday marked the second day of the three-day conference where thousands of people from across the world have come to visit Salt Lake City for the United Nations conference, the first time it’s been held in the U.S. outside of New York City. Ahead of the U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit 2019, slated for September, Tuesday’s panel aimed to “boost ambition and accelerate action to implement the Paris Agreement,” according to the U.N.’s website.

Panelists including Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski urged people to fight for — but not wait for — change at the highest level, while also to starting to work individually to contribute, whether it be ending use of single-use plastic bottles and straws or by ending consumption of meat.

During the panel discussion, Biskupski highlighted efforts Salt Lake City and others in Utah are making to move the needle on sustainability practices — despite lacking support from the federal government under leadership of President Donald Trump, she said.

Biskupski called climate change “really the issue of our time,” calling on all local leaders, the private sector, youth, influencers, and all other stakeholders to push policy makers on all levels to take action.

“We have to come at this from multiple angles,” Biskupski said. “Every community needs to rise up and do this work.”

The day before, Salt Lake City and Park City officials highlighted efforts those cities are doing to implement green and sustainable practices, with goals to reach 100 percent renewable energy by the years 2030 and 2032.

Biskupski highlighted her part in signing on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ opposition to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, joining the vow that U.S. mayors will continue their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to alleviate global warming.

“That was a very valuable moment for us as a country because what that meant, as mayors who are on the front lines dealing with climate change and the impacts of climate change, now we’re embracing the reality that we were kind of on our own and had to take action on the local level without the support of the federal government,” Biskupski said. “And we have been. I want you to be very clear about that.”

The mayor also highlighted Salt Lake City’s policy to move to renewable energy by the year 2030 through partnership with Rocky Mountain Power, the city’s growing network of electric charging stations, and more — suggesting that if cities in places like Utah can work to combat climate change, so can everyone.

“(We’re) a very blue community in a very red state, but we had the support because the energy provider was standing with us,” Biskupski said.

Along with Biskupski and Leem, other panelists included John Rego, vice president of sustainability, corporate responsibility and environmental affairs for SONY Pictures Entertainment; Olumide Idowu, co-founder of the International Climate Change Development Initiative in Africa; actor Luke Mullen, a star on the Disney Channel show “Andi Mack,” which is filmed in Utah; and Laura Tobon, a TV star and social media influencer from Colombia.

“Climate change is a time bomb,” Idowu said, warning that if individuals and communities “don’t take action now,” it will soon be too late.

Tobon spoke of how the Amazon rainforest continues to burn now after three weeks — hitting close to her home in Colombia. She and Mullen both spoke of how they have a “responsibility” to use their platforms to advocate for environmental progress and inspire youth to do the same into future generations.

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“I am not a scientist. I have no political power. But what I do have is the willingness to use my platform for good,” Tobon said.

Tobon spoke of how she’s made personal changes like reducing her consumption of red meat and dairy and to eliminate single-use plastics. Though she acknowledged her actions alone likely won’t matter, but “that answer could completely change if millions of us were doing it systematically.”

“Every single action counts,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Colombia.

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