Professor Saleemul Huq OBE (1952-2023)

It is with deep sadness that we share news of the passing of Professor Saleemul Huq, co-founder of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), a leading authority on climate justice, a professor at the Independent University, Bangladesh, an advisor to the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group of the UNFCCC, IPCC author, and one of the most strident voices for the climate impacted communities from the South.

In his passing, we at Climate Action Network South Asia, have lost our mentor, friend and guide who managed to push rich countries to commit to establishing a loss-and-damage fund to help poor countries deal with the impacts of climate change at COP27 in Sharm El- Sheikh. This fund he said was long overdue to the poor vulnerable countries least responsible for climate change, and suffering on account of the historically high carbon emitters.  And the win didn’t come easily – it was a result of 30 year-long campaign.  Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the Order of the British Empire on him in 2022 for his efforts. 

Prof. Saleemul Huq represented and campaigned for not only his own country Bangladesh, but for every country that has been extremely vulnerable to climate change.  Prof. Huq was involved in the development of the international climate regime from its very beginning, including the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) that developed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He was there for its adoption at the UN headquarters in May 1992.

His strength as climate negotiator came from his extensive research on climate change and he was the lead author of chapters in the third, fourth and fifth assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Prof. Huq was that persistent voice for climate action and justice for the global South, and his advocating for youth to come forward and take climate action led to many youth climate leaders from the global South at COPs.

He had always been a citizen of the world having grown up in three continents due to his father’s diplomatic postings. His interest in science led him to studying plant biology, and later earning a PhD in biochemistry at the prestigious Imperial College, London. Upon returning to Bangladesh, he co-founded BCAS (Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies – a CANSA member), an independent think tank focused on environment policy, along with Atiq Rahman, another well-known name in climate change circles. BCAS went on to becoming the Bangladesh government’s think-tank, and helped formulate the country’s first environmental action plan. He also set up ICCCAD (International Centre for Climate Change and Development – also a CANSA member)at the Independent University, in Dhaka, and was its Director. 

Prof. Huq’s reiteration that loss and damage was based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, that it was “not aid”, put the heat on the high-emitting wealthier countries responsible for climate change in the first place to compensate those countries least responsible for climate impacts. It was at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, that creating a fund for loss and damage was mooted; it received huge opposition, but led to the 2015 Paris climate agreement. 

He not only pushed the loss and damage agenda but also established a global network for community-based adaptation, which focuses on helping rural communities find their own research-based solutions to problems in response to climate change. He was also an expert on the links between climate change and sustainable development, especially from the perspective of the developing countries.

Prof. Huq  was looking forward to see the progress at COP28, on how it would deliver on taking the climate fund forward and in adaptation.

His passing leaves an aching void in all of us in the climate change space and we will miss his endearing, gentle yet strong voice at COP28. The news has left us all – CANSA partners and members – devastated. Yet, we must keep going in his memory, for the rich legacy he leaves behind cannot be left to waste – the mammoth work done must carry on.