The death of a climate justice pioneer

Dr Saleemul Huq (1952-2023)

The editorial team at The Daily Star is shocked and deeply saddened by the death of eminent climate expert and scientist Dr Saleemul Huq OBE.

He passed away earlier today due to massive cardiac arrest. Dr Huq was 71 years old and had been in hospital for treatment, as per our last email correspondence with him on October 11.

As a leading global figure in climate change research and policy, Huq sent us a column each week for the past many years, besides when he couldn’t—which was rare. It was routine for whichever team member was checking the inbox to notify the rest of us that “Saleemul Huq sent his article” or simply that “Saleemul Huq is in.” We feel unprepared to realise that we will hear this no more.

Many of our columnists write on climate change, broadly speaking, often. Even more independent submissions come in weekly on the ever-relevant subject. But Dr Huq was perhaps the only one in our pages who wrote consistently and diligently on this issue—when it was still only “climate change” (and not the climate crisis that it is now), when there was a deadly flood or devastating drought somewhere, whenever there was a make-or-break global conference, and as we must now say, till his untimely demise.

Our team luckily had the chance to meet and lunch with Dr Huq earlier this year at our office. When discussing the state of climate change in Bangladesh and around the world, we expressed how pessimistic we often felt, as things only seemed to worsen while major polluters continue to escape accountability. But Dr Huq, characteristically, was adamant and hopeful that the world would be able to fight off the worst of the climate crisis. He sincerely believed in the work of the millions of climate activists across the globe, who live and breathe to push world leaders and other major actors into action against climate change. Dr Huq’s own zeal when participating in this fight was deeply inspiring, to say the least. Bangladesh, being one of the most climate change-vulnerable countries, has unfortunately lost one of its most dedicated champions at the global table.­­

Born in 1952, Dr Huq’s early education can be traced back to Germany, Indonesia, and Kenya. He later pursued higher studies, obtaining his BSc, DIC, and PhD in Botany from the Imperial College London. Among his unique achievements, Prof Huq holds the distinction of being the only Bangladeshi to have attended every UN Climate Change COP till last year, reinforcing his dedication to the field. But, his achievements were not limited to research and policy influence.

In 2006, Dr Saleemul Huq received the Burtoni Award, and the National Environment Award from the Bangladesh government in 2020. In 2022, he was conferred the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the UK government for his worldwide efforts to combat climate change.

This year, Dr Huq was appointed an advisor to the Scientific Advisory Board for Independent Advice on Breakthroughs in Science and Technology by the United Nations.

Prior to his death, Dr Huq was the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and a professor of Environmental Science and Management at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).

Beyond these roles, he was an associate of the International Institute on Environment and Development (IIED) in the UK. He was also chairing the Expert Advisory Group for the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and served as a senior adviser on Locally-Led Adaptation at the Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) in the Netherlands. Dr Saleemul Huq was widely recognised for his expertise in climate change, environment, and development, particularly in formulating adaptation strategies for the most vulnerable developing nations.

Nature, a leading international science journal, acknowledged his contributions in 2022 by naming him among the top ten scientists of that year. His other affiliations included an honorary degree from Northumbria University for his relentless fight against climate change.

It pains us to have to refer to Dr Huq in the past tense, and words do not suffice to express how frequently this beloved and respected columnist will be missed—not only by The Daily Star, but by all those engaged in the fight for climate change adaptation globally.

Dr Saleemul Huq is survived by his wife, Kashana Huq, his son Saqib Huq (who is the assistant director at ICCCAD), and his daughter Sadaf Huq. May his soul rest in peace.

We are grateful to the author Afia Jahin for her contribution on this piece.

Originally this article was published on October 29, 2023 at Daily Star