Remembering Professor Saleemul Huq

By David Howlett, Senior Advisor, Climate Champions Team | November 22, 2023

I’m not sure if words can express the loss of my dear friend and colleague Saleemul Huq, who sadly died on Saturday 28 October. I have known Saleem for well over thirty years and his passing is a tragic loss first to his family, friends and work colleagues.

He was instrumental in helping set up the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions’ Race to Resilience first by working with Jorge Gastelumendi and myself to convince the Champions and their team that we needed climate action on both mitigation and adaptation. UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP26, Nigel Topping, recognized this when he said “he was shocked and saddened to hear of Saleem’s passing. [He was a] friend and mentor who did more than anyone to encourage me to move beyond mitigation to work on resilience.”

More recently he has worked with the Champions on the need to ramp up action and finance to address the loss and damage that climate change is now causing. He quite rightly said in the Champions’ last ‘Actions After Impacts’ dialogue “we are in the era of loss and damage.”

Saleem was always a champion of local action. I can still remember his personal challenge to me, that – while the RtR’s goal to make four billion people resilient to climate change was well and good, big global goals didn’t really matter unless it was actually backed up by action that makes a difference to women and men living at the frontline of climate change.

We have taken this challenge to heart and while tracking the progress of RtR we have focussed on peoples’ solutions and stories to help ensure we are making a difference to people most vulnerable to climate change. We will continue to do so – and give voice to communities at the front line of climate change – especially those living in the least developed countries and small island developing states.

Many of you may not know the full expanse of Saleem’s career as a climate scientist and a champion of action. This was why he was such an excellent choice as an Ambassador for the High-Level Champions. His final post was the founding Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD). Prior to this he was the first Director of Climate Change at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). In this role, Saleem established the links between climate and sustainable development – until then, there was very little interaction between the  climate world and the development world. And it was Saleem’s idea at COP 8 to start development and climate days at subsequent COPs to bring these two worlds together.

Saleem was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth in the 2022 New Years Honours List for his services to combating international climate change. The honour was awarded in recognition of his work to build climate expertise in Bangladesh, the UK, and across the world.

Saleem was a constant voice for climate action and justice for the Global South. He was the lead author of chapters in the third, fourth and fifth assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A professor at the Independent University, Bangladesh, and an advisor to the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group of the UNFCCC. Saleem published hundreds of scientific as well as popular articles and he was named by Nature in 2022 as one of its top 10 scientists.

Sadly, COP 27 was to be Saleem’s last COP. He is one of only a handful of people who attended every single one of the global climate summits. This knowledge meant much to many and led to his appointment to the COP 28 Advisory Committee. He will be sorely missed, but with all he has done and those he has influenced his legacy to increase climate action and deliver climate justice will be delivered.

About David Howlett

David was the former Head of Policy at the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) on secondment from UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) now the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO). At GRP he was the co-focal point on resilience and adaptation for the Marrakech Partnership on Global Climate Action. He led with Jorge Gastelumendi on setting up the UN Climate Change High Level Champions’ Race to Resilience. For the last two years he has been directly working in their Climate Champions Team as a Senior Adviser and lead on loss and damage.

Image: From left to right: Professor Saleemul Huq, Mary Robinson, Sheela Patel and Nigel Topping at the launch of Roof Over Our Heads during COP27.