Hilda Heine, a former president of the Marshall Islands, on Friday resigned from the main advisory committee of this year’s United Nations climate summit, citing allegations that the conference president tried to use the international talks to strike oil and gas deals.
The Centre for Climate Reporting and the BBC reported Monday on leaked documents that purportedly show Sultan al-Jaber — the controversial president of the 28th Conference of the Parties, or COP28, and the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company — planned to leverage his role at COP28 to boost fossil fuel exports from the UAE.
“These actions undermine the integrity of the COP presidency and the process as a whole,” Heine wrote in a resignation letter to al-Jaber, according to Reuters.
The reported backdoor dealings have only helped fuel long-standing concerns among environmentalists that the fossil fuel industry has corrupted the annual climate summit, where world leaders are tasked with trying to find solutions to curb planet-warming emissions and prevent runaway climate impacts.
Al-Jaber has dismissed the reporting as “false” and “an attempt to undermine” his work as COP28 president. In recent days, he has faced renewed calls to step down from either his role as the summit’s president or as CEO of the UAE state-owned oil company.
In her resignation, Heine told al-Jaber that trust in the negotiations could only be restored by delivering “an outcome that demonstrates that you are committed to phasing out fossil fuels,” Reuters reported.
The remote Marshall Islands are extremely vulnerable to global climate change, with sea level rise posing what a World Bank report called an “existential threat” to the island nation.
Al-Jaber’s appointment as COP28 president and his deep ties to fossil fuels have attracted intense scrutiny and criticism from the global climate community. And his opening speech at the summit likely did little to allay concerns.
“It is essential that no issue is left off the table,” he said. “And yes, as I have been saying, we must look for ways and ensure the inclusion of the role of fossil fuels.”
The 33-member committee that Heine resigned from includes climate, industry and finance experts from around the world who were tasked with advising COP28 leadership ahead of the summit.
A COP28 spokesperson told HuffPost that Heine’s decision to step down was “extremely” disappointing.
“We appreciated her advice throughout the year and we only wish she would have been with us here in the UAE celebrating the adoption of a fund that will support vulnerable island states and those most affected by climate impacts,” the spokesperson said via email.
“As the COP28 President has said, we have been completely clear, open, and honest throughout this process and it is a shame to see unverified reporting affect our team and undermine the world’s best chance to keep 1.5 [degrees Celsius] within reach,” the spokesperson added, referring to a goal for limiting global warming.