Remembering Dr. Saleemul Huq, the climate stalwart


Dr. Huq steered a generation of climate researchers and activists, having inspired most of the leading climate activists and actors active currently

Only one meeting with Dr. Saleemul Huq was enough to thwart any preconceived expectations associated with someone of his remarkable stature and credentials. Indeed, he never put on any airs over his accolades which included being one of the most cited climate scientists with over 134 publications and 23,530 citations, a distinguished professor, an officer of the order of the British Empire (OBE), and  Nature’s 10 awardee, among a multitude of other achievements.

In fact, after being appointed as a researcher at his organization, I had been feeling somewhat intimidated and awestruck prior to meeting him, having had crossed paths with many individuals with lesser accomplishments but higher fanfare. However, in our first meeting itself, I was disarmed by his gentle smile and soft demeanor. Throughout the course of working closely under his guidance in the subsequent three years, I continued to be impressed by his humility, graciousness, and impeccable manners.

His exceptional humility shines in my personal favorite memories of him. I accompanied Dr. Huq to Paris where he was attending an event as a keynote speaker. He was evidently discomforted by the heat, but did not complain once, only silently accepting a glass of water I brought to him, despite initially declining my verbal offer so as to not inconvenience me. Another event from the same trip required us to walk a considerable distance and I enquired if he needed a break or would prefer taking a taxi, after noticing his tiredness. He responded with a soft smile that although age had slowed him down, he was fine walking, mentioning his son’s encouragement to walk more. These incidents might seem insignificant in the larger scheme of things but speak to his silent strength and grace.

The founder director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Dr. Huq used to be always accessible to anyone willing to learn from him, be it all his employees, students at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB), or any aspiring climate activist. He was indiscriminate in his endeavor to share his knowledge and enable developing countries and communities to grasp the urgency of climate change.

Dr. Huq steered a generation of climate researchers and activists, having inspired most of the leading climate activists and actors active currently. Within ICCCAD, Dr. Huq was known for being the mentor and facilitator of all researchers. We would all wake up every day to find our inbox filled with emails forwarded by him of new publications on climate change and opportunities of new research. He widely encouraged us to pursue any and all opportunities – from applying to postgraduate studies to partaking in different global forums and conferences. In fact, the only thing Dr. Huq was evidently strict about was his insistence for us all at ICCCAD to participate in research and author scientific publications.

Having left the comforts of foreign land to serve national interests, and getting global recognition in the process, Dr. Huq never chased after or cared about government accolades or media attention for his work. Instead, it was usually the national media and stakeholders pursuing him for his expertise, with it being difficult to find a report on climate change without a quote by Dr. Huq. He was a prime testament to striving diligently and letting one’s work speak for himself.

What set Dr. Huq apart from his contemporaries was his open-mindedness and forward-thinking mentality. Even with his expertise, he never shied away from unlearning and relearning the ever-evolving landscape of climate change of the climate landscape. He would champion for adaptation when the global discourse was stuck on mitigation only, later emerging as a leading advocate for financing loss and damage when adaptation became widely accepted

This Tribute was originally published by The Daily Star on 1st November, 2023.

Author: Towrin Zaman works as a research associate at International Centre for Climate Change and Development ICCCAD.