I am devastated by the death of my friend and dear colleague Professor Saleemul Huq, whose passing has ripped a colossal hole in the fabric of the global climate science community.
I learned of Saleem’s passing on arrival in Bangladesh within the last 24 hours. One of my principal reasons for making this journey was to sit with him to discuss issues close to both our hearts; the quest for justice for vulnerable people everywhere in the face of climate change.
But I was also looking forward to spending time with this kind, deeply thoughtful and remarkable man. He lived and breathed the mission to which he had dedicated his professional life. I first met Saleem four years ago when Ban Ki-moon, 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kristalina Georgieva, International Monetary Fund Managing Director, and I toured Bangladesh to get a better understanding of the impacts of climate change on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Saleem introduced us to local communities who are taking their own steps to protect themselves from rising temperatures, constructing cyclone shelters and building alert systems.
Through Saleem’s eyes we were able to see for ourselves how innately resilient people are – no matter how humble or constrained their circumstances. And from those experiences I think we all took away the greatest lesson of all; that moving communities from vulnerability to resilience is a goal which is urgent, vital and achievable.
Saleem also gently insisted to us that investing our faith in the energy, resourcefulness and agency of people living on the frontline of the climate emergency was the key to unlocking solutions. He is the intellectual architect of what we now call Locally Led Adaptation. Saleem is de facto the voice of the voiceless.
And that is why we do today what we do; it is why, from Mongla in Bangladesh – to which Saleem introduced me – to Mukuru in Nairobi, Kenya and to Monrovia, Liberia we are turning his vision into reality, by leveraging the power of International Finance Institutions to funnel large-scale finance to local people with their own plans for building their resilience.
Saleem touched my life. I am certain that many others in every walk of life, from the highest corridors of power to the humblest street market, will vouch for that same impact. He was a quiet but irresistible presence in every COP – the acronym that stands for the annual gathering where UN members meet to steer a path to climate resilience – leaving an indelible mark on every edition.
In 2015 his steely focus was achieving the 1.5 degrees Celsius target for the Paris Agreement. In Glasgow he was resolutely committed to doubling climate adaptation finance, and in Sharm El Sheikh he brought his firepower to the “loss and damage” file. He was, in short, a champion for climate justice – which he strongly believed is the best path we have to resilience and beyond that goal to shared prosperity.
As we mourn Professor Huq, I am conscious that all of us who work in the field of Locally Led Adaptation are standing on his shoulders. The best tribute that I can imagine at this moment of shock that my friend is no longer with us is for us to rely, in the days and years ahead, upon his inspiring work to realize his vision of a better future.