UAE president honours Prof Saleemul Huq, others

United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan yesterday bestowed the First Class Order of Zayed II on several global dignitaries including late Bangladeshi Professor Saleemul Huq in recognition of their contributions to the success of the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) hosted by the UAE late last year.

During the ceremony held in Abu Dhabi, he expressed his gratitude to all recipients for their sincere efforts that contributed to the success of COP28 and resulted in the historic UAE Consensus that has become a key framework for global climate action and sustainability.

Saleemul Huq was a member of the COP28 Presidency Advisory Committee. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan presented the award to Huq’s wife, son, and daughter in recognition of his distinguished efforts and contributions to operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund.

Saleemul Huq, one of the most well-regarded climate scientists globally, passed away last October at his home in Bangladesh.

As a COP28 Advisory Committee member, he played an instrumental role in advising and guiding the Presidency’s work on adaptation and Loss and Damage, said a COP28 UAE release.

The news of Huq’s passing reverberated around the world, with many influential figures and organisations commemorating his legacy. COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber paid tribute to Huq in his opening plenary address at the climate conference, stating that Professor Huq had “devoted his entire career to the cause of finding a way to address loss and damage,” and adding that he had personally benefited from Huq’s counsel.

A botanist by training, Huq had long advocated that the world’s developed nations, the principal emitters of greenhouse gases, should provide funds to the victims of climate change in the Global South who suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change.

For him, climate change was a daily reality. He was involved in early studies on climate impacts in his home country, Bangladesh, which is a low-lying country where thousands of people in coastal areas can no longer reside due to rising sea levels.

Huq was the Founder and Director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD). “Every single day, over 2,000 climate-displaced people arrive by foot, cycle, boat and bus in Dhaka and disappear into the city slums,” he noted in an open letter. “No one is looking after them – but they are people being forced to move by human-induced climate change.”

A key member of the Advisory Committee for the COP28 Presidency, Huq had been instrumental in the agreement made at COP27 in Egypt to establish a loss and damage fund. For his efforts in doing so, Nature, a leading international science journal, declared that he was one of 10 people “who helped shape science” in 2022. He also received the Order of the British Empire from the UK government.

In an open letter to Al Jaber ahead of the Dubai conference, Huq described himself as a “one agenda” advisor, namely on getting an outcome on creating a new Loss and Damage Fund at COP28.

While Huq did not get to personally see that outcome, his work ahead of COP28 helped to deliver the breakthrough outcome, made on the very first day of the conference, to operationalize the Fund. A total of US$792 million has since been pledged to the Fund, including US$100 million from the UAE, the first nation to contribute.

Loss and Damage is essential even if the world meets climate mitigation goals because a “locked-in” level of warming already impacts particularly vulnerable communities being hit by extreme weather events, such as storms and floods, reduced agricultural productivity, and rising sea levels.

Huq’s desire to help the marginalized and victims of climate change — “the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet” as he described them — had led him to attend every COP since the first one in 1995. He played an active role as the adviser on adaptation, loss and damage and climate finance to the LDC (least developed countries) Group of negotiators in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Huq was also part of the author team for the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ranging from 1997 to 2014. Alongside his role as Director of the ICCCAD, Huq was a professor of Environmental Science and Management at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) until his death.

While Huq attended 27 COPs, in his open letter to Dr. Al Jaber he said that COP28 should be known as “‘COP1’: the first UN summit in the new era of climate loss and damage which is already upon us.”

Thanks to his work, future COPs will continue to build on Loss and Damage and ensure that we continue to make every effort to ensure the voices of those most impacted by climate change will be heard and reflected within the process.

This news was originally published by The Daily Star.