Remembering and honoring a champion of loss and damage

Saleemul Huq devoted his life’s work to advocating the world’s most climate-vulnerable communities

Saleemul Huq, an expert in the field of climate change, environment and development, devoted his life’s work to advocating the world’s most climate-vulnerable communities. While he did not live to see his work come to fruition last year at COP28, his legacy will live on in the breakthrough progress and momentum made on Loss and Damage.

This week, the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan bestowed the First Class Order of Zayed II medal to 21 international climate dignitaries and private sector leaders for their contributions to COP28 and climate diplomacy. Sadly, one of the key honorees was not present in person to receive that recognition.

Professor Saleemul Huq, one of the most well-regarded climate scientists globally, passed away last October at his home in Bangladesh mere weeks before the start of COP28. 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.

Professor Huqdid not witness the fruition of his life’s work at COP28, where the Loss and Damage fund and funding arrangements were adopted. In recognition of his contributions, Huq’s medal of recognition was presented to his widow Kashana, son Saqib and daughter Sadaf this week in Abu Dhabi.

The news of Professor Huq’s passing reverberated around the world, with many influential figures and organizations commemorating his legacy. COP28 President Dr. 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, Dr. 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 Dr. Al Jaber ahead of the Dubai conference, Dr. 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 U.N. 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.

About COP28 UAE:  

  • At the historic COP28, countries came together to deliver the UAE Consensus – the most ambitious and comprehensive set of negotiated outcomes to come out of the UNFCCC process since COP21.
  • The UAE Consensus includes an unprecedented reference to transitioning away from all fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner in this critical decade, to enable the world to reach net zero emissions by 2050, in keeping with the science.
  • The UAE Consensus calls for peaking emissions by 2025 and aligning with 1.5°C pathways; urging emission reductions aiming for 43 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2035; submitting ambitious, economy-wide NDCs by 2025; delivering National Adaptation Plans by 2025 and implementing by 2030; operationalizing and funding Loss and Damage; significantly scaling up adaptation finance; recognizing the role of credit rating agencies and the need for concessional and grant finance.
  • The UAE Consensus also saw the adoption of the Emirates Framework for Global Climate Resilience, Just Transition Work Program and Mitigation Work Program, alongside the institutionalization of the Youth Climate Champion.
  • Alongside the UAE Consensus, historic levels of funding were raised during COP28, with $85 billion mobilized for climate action.

This news was originally published by Zawya.