Remembering Professor Saleemul Huq OBE (1952-2023)

Remembering Professor Saleemul Huq OBE (1952-2023)

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Date: 2nd November 2023
Author: CDKN Global
Type: News

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
 slowly and always
 irregularly. Spaces fill
 with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
 Our senses, restored, never 
to be the same, whisper to us.
 They existed. They existed.
 We can be. Be and be
 better. For they existed.” - Maya Angelou

Professor Saleemul Huq was a dear friend, mentor and fellow advocate to many of us at CDKN. We are deeply saddened by his passing and extend our sincerest condolences to his family, friends, the ICCCAD team and the many people around the world whose lives he touched in countless ways. 

In fond remembrance of Saleemul, our hearts and minds converge upon a treasury of memories – a tribute to his immeasurable legacy and a collection of the indelible mark Saleem has played in our collective journeys.

Saleemul’s profound influence remains an enduring source of inspiration for us all.

Saleemul Huq

Dr Shehnaaz Moosa, CDKN CEO

The sudden loss of someone as well loved and respected as Saleemul is heavy. I was very blessed to have Saleem’s counsel and guidance. His light is not extinguished when a life is lived as his was, instead it is amplified for he has left many climate disciples and may his legacy be one we all expand.

Saleem was the ultimate champion of climate justice, whose message was clear and visionary with a tinge of hope and always ended with a smile. Saleem was always available to chat, be it about the complexities of the environment I found myself in, or to run an idea past him for a project. His generous listening ability always made me feel deeply respected and this was the effect Saleem had on all those he engaged with. His honest feedback and encouragement to stand for justice will be sorely missed by many. He was instrumental in creating many learning events, the Development & Climate days at COP, the Community-based Adaptation (CBA) conference and Gobeshona – all of them unique and creating a sense of belonging for those who attended.

Looking at my last WhatsApp to him just last week it started off with “I hope you can help me…” and invariably Saleem always did…I am struggling to believe that I won't be able to send a quick message for help and advice, or get a wave and smile across a meeting room. 

Saleem’s death is a huge loss to the climate community. His immense contribution to climate justice will live on through us.

Md. Jubaer Rashid, CDKN Country Engagement Lead (Bangladesh)

For many of us, Dr. Saleemul Huq was more than just a respected scientist; he was a mentor and a friend. Dr. Huq's influence extended far and wide. ICLEI South Asia – Bangladesh office was inaugurated at ICCCAD’s premises with his guidance. This offered me the privilege of working closely with him, seeking his advice and guidance on our endeavours in Bangladesh and the expansion of ICLEI South Asia's footprint in the country. We proudly regarded him as an advisor of ICLEI South Asia – Bangladesh. One of the most striking qualities of Dr. Huq was his accessibility. Whenever we reached out to him, whether for guidance, advice, or simply a conversation, he responded promptly. His willingness to engage, share knowledge, and mentor the next generation of climate professionals was remarkable. As we bid farewell to a beloved mentor and friend, we must carry forward his legacy.

Prof Chris Gordon, CDKN Strategic Advisor (Ghana)

I served with Saleem on UNEP-PROVIA which morphed into the World Adaptation Science Programme for many years. He was a passionate advocate of Community-based Adaptation long before the current mantra of "Locally-Led Adaptation" came into being. He will be missed; however, Saleem was also a capacity builder and there are many young scientists and researchers whom he has empowered and trained to take up his mantle. 

Dr Nadia Sitas, CDKN EbA Thematic Lead

While I had been in many spaces with Professor Huq for nearly a decade, I first met him in person in 2018 in Ethiopia, where he boldly stated that in order for a global network to be able to be called “global” it needed to centre the voices of the majority world and facilitate locally-led action by supporting existing work and partnerships – to let local actors lead. Each and every time I heard him speak, he maintained the same message of promoting southern leadership and excellence. Professor Huq had an unwavering support for climate negotiations in support of majority world countries that bear the brunt of climate changes they have little part in causing. He did this with a smile and a deep commitment to mentorship and learning. Knowing he was in a room enabled so many to find their voice and I hope we can carry his spirit into the brave work that needs to be done.

Michelle du Toit, CDKN Director: Africa and Regional Engagement

Professor Huq (“please call me Saleem”) has been a guiding light, helpful critic and profound inspiration to me and to the CDKN Programme. He was not afraid to call us out if we drifted from being true southern leaders and champions – noting the danger of being a ‘usual suspect’ in the global South. His unwavering message on the excellence within the global South and the need for true respect for the global South helped me speak out and stand up in global fora even when I was apprehensive and frankly fearful to do so. Thank you, Saleem, for how you have empowered us, supported us and guided us. Your voice will continue to be heard through us. May you be at peace.

Lisa McNamara, CDKN Director: Knowledge and Global Engagement

One word stands out for me when remembering Saleem: generosity. He was incredibly generous with his time. Always the first person to offer his time to review a document and attend a meeting. Always the first person to reply to an email. He was generous with his ideas. Always willing to share, engage and galvanise people behind a common agenda until they felt it was theirs to drive forward. Most importantly, he was generous with his deep expertise and wise counsel, utterly dedicated to mentoring and guiding others to chart their own paths for championing climate justice. I have no doubt that we will never fully know the deep and wide impact of his legacy in building a new generation of climate leaders in the majority world. 

Lucia Scodanibbio, CDKN Learning Lead

As the WhatsApp notifications on my phone were unusually insistent for a Sunday morning, I was shocked to find out they carried the tragic news of Saleem’s passing. I remembered my first conversation with him as a GCA (Global Center on Adaptation) fellow and the encouragement and (reckless, given how new I was at this) push I received from him to develop a draft strategy about how locally-led adaptation could be mainstreamed into the recently-formed GCA programmes. But that is how Saleem was, never saying no to any idea – no matter how unusual. Saleem was always available and responsive (I wondered if he had a special time machine that enabled him to be everywhere, present at any time of day or night) and supportive of younger colleagues that he would gently nudge into different spaces and opportunities. His outspoken challenge of the structural barriers that keep injustices, especially those affecting the most marginalised, is one of his features that I will keep close at heart as I continue working in the climate justice field. Thank you, Saleem, for your tireless work and the teachings you shared with all of us.   

Mairi Dupar, CDKN Gender Thematic Lead

Professor Huq’s passing has been a shock to the many who worked with him and respected his work deeply. We may honour and extend his legacy in several ways. First, we may learn from how he subverted conventional framings in international climate policy and asked uncomfortable questions of policy-makers from the perspective of the most climate-vulnerable communities. Second, we may remember and adopt his generosity of spirit on a personal and intellectual level. As an example of this: he once kindly offered to host my child to study climate change adaptation from a Bangladeshi perspective with him in Dhaka. He saw it as a way to build bridges between the South and North. Although this specific promise will not be realised as he meant it, we may recognise in this gesture his ethos of constructive partnership, enquiry and action. May his spirit live on.

Bedoshruti Sadhukhan, CDKN Asia Coordinator

I remember being struck by Saleem Sir’s simplicity and down to earth nature when I first came across him. I had expected someone sombre and serious and certainly not someone who would be paying attention to a young girl. That was several years ago. Since then, through my work at ICLEI, I had the privilege of coming across him several times and every time, he always had a kind word and a smile to encourage our work, guide and advise us. I am glad I had the opportunity to work with him and extremely saddened that we had to lose him so soon. 

Fatema Rajabali, CDKN Africa Manager

Interacting and working with Saleem was always a pleasure. It was just a fortnight ago that some colleagues and I were talking about how generous he always was with his time. Saleem made himself available to share valuable insights and reflections, make connections where needed and provide direction and encouragement for ideas. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy is felt and will live on!

Ameil Harikishun, CDKN Finance Thematic Lead

As a young professional, there are defining moments and people that have fundamentally shaped my view of climate justice and the professional and personal journey I am on. Professor Huq was one of my role models and someone I deeply respected. He had a special humility, generosity, kindness and an unwavering determination for progress, partnership and truth. Whenever I engaged with Saleem, be it in a virtual meeting, a private conversation, or a public event, I always felt empowered by his presence. It is one thing to be a prominent and influential voice it is another thing altogether to create space for those that are not heard. It is one thing to be an incredibly respected person in your field; it is another thing altogether to make all those around you feel respected and seen. I am grateful to have known and learned from Saleem and will carry his memory and legacy in my heart. Thank you, Saleem, for always encouraging me to speak truth to power and for showing me how. 

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