Mattlan Zackhras, Marshall Islands climate leader, dies aged 47

Tributes to Minister Zackhras highlight his work at home and abroad to defend islands threatened by climate change

Mattlan Zackhras pushed for sustained ambition on climate change after the Paris summit (Pic: IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)


Mattlan Zackhras, a leading Marshall Islands climate advocate, died aged 47 of heart failure at a hospital in Taiwan on Tuesday.

As minister-in-assistance to president Hilda Heine for the last 19 months, Zackhras was a convenor of the “high ambition coalition” in international climate talks.

Representing one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to sea level rise, he kept up pressure for tough climate action following the 2015 Paris climate summit.

President Heine sent her thoughts and prayers to Zackhras’ family and friends, in a short statement. “Minister Matt worked tirelessly, at home and abroad, on behalf of the Marshallese people and the Islands that he loved deeply. He will be greatly missed,” she said.

Foreign minister John Silk is to take over Zackhras’ international duties until further notice.

Allies including top German environment official Jochen Flasbarth and EU ambassador to the Pacific Andrew Jacobs joined islanders in sharing their condolences.

Zackhras had represented Namdrik Atoll in parliament since 2003, following seven years as a diplomat in Washington DC.

Radio New Zealand highlighted his promotion of sustainable coconut oil production, pearl-growing and mangrove restoration on the islands.

In 2012, the UN development programme awarded Namdrik’s local resources committee an Equator Prize.

“Matt was one in a million,” Tamara Greenstone Alefaio, who worked with him at the University of the South Pacific Campus in Majuro, told RNZ.

“His passion for the future of the Marshall Islands was evident in everything he did. Whether it was the care he took in supporting USP’s weaving program and science camps, or simply the fact that he always had time for everyone, he inspired us all for conservation and climate issues.”

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