Island president beats no-confidence vote, days before leading climate summit

Marshall Islands Hilda Heine narrowly defeated the motion, just days before she is due to open a virtual summit of climate-vulnerable nations

Marshall Islands president Hilda Heine at the 2017 UN climate summit (Pic: IISD/ENB | Ángeles Estrada)

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Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands and a leading climate advocate, narrowly survived a vote of no confidence in parliament on Monday.

Lawmakers split 16-16 over the attempt to oust her, with one absentee, falling just one vote short of the majority her opponents needed.

It keeps president Heine in office for a virtual summit planned by countries on the front line of climate impacts on 22 November. As convenor she is expected to launch the 24-hour call for action in the capital Majuro.

Organised by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, an informal coalition of 48 nations, it is intended to drum up support for raising ambition ahead of this year’s UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland.

Leaders, including France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, are expected to broadcast statements on social media, while expert panels discuss key issues.

The first female head of state of a Pacific island, Heine is a vocal champion of carbon-cutting efforts internationally. In September, her government published plans to make the Marshall Island carbon neutral by 2050.

As host to the world’s second largest ship registry, the Marshall Island is leading calls to decarbonise the sector through the UN shipping regulator.

Heine has also attracted finance from international donors like the World Bank to protect the low-lying atoll nation from the threats brought by rising seas and intensifying tropical storms.

The opposition raised a number of objections to her leadership, including challenging plans to introduce a cryptocurrency as legal tender alongside the US dollar.

She hit back, calling these complaints a “smokescreen” for efforts to turn one atoll into an independent tax haven, an idea proposed by Chinese businessman Cary Yan.

Heine warned that such a move would undermine the Marshall Islands’ sovereignty and open the door to money laundering and passport scams.

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