Professor Saleemul Huq was one of the most well-known figures in the history of the climate justice movement. Huq was a British-Bengali scientist whose contributions have had an impact on the Global South.
He was a visionary in development, environment, and climate change. His global contributions have profoundly impacted and opened the door for a more equitable and sustainable future.
Professor Huq's trajectory was marked by an uncompromising commitment to tackling the challenges presented by climate change. He served as the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), which is situated in Bangladesh.
In this role, he bridged the knowledge gap between research and practical solutions for developing nations.
Furthermore, he was a Professor at the Independent University Bangladesh (IUB), imparting his wisdom and experience to the next generation of leaders.
A Man With Invaluable Expertise
One of Huq's biggest accomplishments was his participation in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and his contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For the IPCC's third, fourth, and fifth assessment reports, he was the lead author. The world's understanding of how to adapt to climate change in the most vulnerable poor countries was greatly influenced by his observations. Through his support of international legislation and activities aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change, his effort has served as a lifeline to the most vulnerable countries.
Huq had an impact outside of educational settings as well. To provide those nations suffering the harshest effects of climate change with a powerful voice, he offered advice to the UNFCCC's Least Developed Countries (LDC) group. His expertise was invaluable in helping these countries get through the challenging negotiations and secure much-needed support.
Huq oversaw the Expert Advisory Group, which benefited the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a coalition of countries most at risk from climate change. His tireless efforts and strategic guidance strengthened these nations' resilience and showed his unwavering commitment to climate justice.
He held these roles and was a Senior Adviser on locally-led adaptation for the Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA), a Dutch organisation. His dedication to promoting adaptation measures at the local level, where the consequences of climate change are most felt, was further illustrated by this.
Huq was not content to limit his scholarly and advisory duties to that. He spent a considerable amount of time teaching sharing his skills and experience with students at Imperial College London, the University of Dhaka, and the United Nations University. He tried to prepare Bangladesh's future leaders to confront the climate disaster when he founded the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), a prominent research and policy organisation in the nation, due to his dedication to education.
Huq was honoured with many honours during his life for his unwavering work. A tribute to the lasting importance of his work, he was listed as one of the top ten global influencers on climate change policy. For his services to environmental improvement, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the 2020 National Environment Award. Huq's commitment to fighting global climate change was also acknowledged at the highest levels, as he was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2022 New Year Honours. This honour highlighted how important his efforts have been on a global scale in the battle against climate change.
A Champion for Climate Adaptation, and Loss & Damage Fund
Saleemul Huq made a lasting impact on the global climate movement by championing the causes of loss and damage issues for the global south. His work promoted climate justice, emphasising adaptation measures.
He was speaking up in favour of adaptation measures and stressing their significance long before the COP process was established in the early 1990s. He conducted a great deal of research, gave advice to less developed nations, and was instrumental in the training of climate negotiators over the years.
His 2012–2013 dedication to loss and damage developed into fervent advocacy. To address the negative effects of climate change, like extreme weather events and rising sea levels, he and other scientists worked tirelessly to build a loss and damage fund facility.
The establishment of the Loss and Damage fund during COP27 in Sharm El-Shaik, which intends to give financial support for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries disproportionately affected by climate change, was made possible in large part by Saleemul Huq's hard work in this direction.
The climate community has suffered a great loss with his untimely death, and many leaders and experts have voiced shock and sadness. Huq's contribution to adaptation as a trailblazing voice and his steadfast commitment to loss and damage financing will serve as an inspiration for future attempts to tackle climate change.
Remembering the Legacy of a Climate Advocate
Among his major achievements was being the Chair of the Expert Advisory Group for the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF). At this summit, the nations most affected by climate change gathered to express their worries and insist that serious steps be taken to address their issues.
Throughout his life, Huq actively participated in several organisations and climate change-related activities. He attended all of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's Conference of the Parties (COP) until his passing (UNFCCC). His expertise and advice had a significant impact on the climate negotiations, particularly on adaptation, loss and damage, and climate finance.
His influence extended beyond his professional achievements. He was well known for his kindness, decency, and commitment to upholding the law. His dedication to the welfare of underprivileged people affected by climate change became a deeply held personal belief that extended beyond his professional life.
He created the theoretical framework known as "Locally Led Adaptation," which has endured for a long time. This concept emphasises how communities affected by climate change have the autonomy and know-how to design their plans for resilience. Professor Huq's work gave voice to the voiceless and made this concept a global movement.
We must carry on Prof. Saleemul Huq's inspirational work and forward his vision of a better future after his passing. His life and deeds serve as a reminder that the struggle for climate justice is a global undertaking that crosses national lines and many generations. The fight against climate change will always draw motivation from Prof. Huq's memories. It may be possible to honour him by renaming the UN loss and damage fund facility, demonstrating his immense accomplishments and enduring effect on climate discourse. His unavailability at COP28 serves as a painful reminder of the remarkable legacy he left behind, inspiring others to take up the cause of climate justice and work toward a more sustainable future.
(Anjal Prakash is a Clinical Associate Professor (Research) at Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business (ISB). He teaches sustainability at ISB and contributes to IPCC reports.)