A Gigantic Loss for Climate Justice

A friend to journalists everywhere, Saleemul Huq helped secure “loss and damage” compensation and the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-C target

At the 2015 Paris climate summit, Saleemul Huq flashes the hand signal used by advocates demanding that the 1.5-degree-Celsius target be included in the Paris Agreement. (Credit: Mark Hertsgaard)

Climate justice has lost a towering figure. And with the COP28 climate summit opening four weeks from today, journalists have lost an invaluable source — a peerless guide to the insider maneuverings, power politics, and especially the moral questions at the heart of international climate negotiations.

Saleemul Huq died Saturday at his home in Dhaka, Bangladesh, of a heart attack, aged 71. A scientist, diplomat, columnist, activist, and mentor, he also championed journalism’s vital role in combating climate change. “More and better news coverage does not by itself guarantee victory,” he wrote last year in TIME, “but it is indispensable to our chances of reversing course before it is too late.”

Any journalist covering, or simply wanting to understand, COP28 will profit from studying Huq’s extraordinary achievements and piercing insights into what happens at COPs and why it matters.

Many tributes have noted that Huq, the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development,  was instrumental in getting rich countries to agree at COP27 to pay for the “loss and damage” their high emissions inflict on poor countries. “Saleemul Huq pushed, cajoled, strategized for 30 years for rich, industrialized countries to acknowledge climate loss and damage,” Somini Sengupta, The New York Times global climate reporter, tweeted. “He lived to see it happen last year.”

Less known is that Saleem was also at the heart of the diplomatic push that got the 1.5-degree-Celsius target into the 2015 Paris Agreement. At the time, mainstream opinion considered even a 2-degree-C target politically challenging; 1.5 degrees C was dismissed as utter fantasy. But Huq, his colleagues at the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, and allies across the global climate movement organized diplomats from climate-vulnerable countries to stand together to demand the 1.5-degree-C target. Anything more than 1.5 degrees [C] “is a death sentence” for low-lying countries like the Maldives, explained Mohammed Nasheed, the former president of The Maldives.

Throughout his career, Huq was guided by an experience in his youth when he “got to know the poor as individuals, not as an abstraction.” After earning a PhD in botany in London, he returned home and spent months living with fishing families in the river communities of Bangladesh. Having grown up upper-middle class, he later said, “it was an eye-opening experience” to see that the poor “were extremely resilient and often ingenious at coping with the circumstances they faced.”

He concluded that “instead of doing research on the poor, we should do research for the poor… hearing their ideas and working together to devise and apply remedies.” That conviction led to his subsequent work on “community-based adaptation” and “loss and damage,” which, he emphasized, was not charity but compensation. And the poor “have to be in the driver’s seat” about how such payments are spent.

It took 19 years for “loss and damage” finance to be enshrined in a COP agreement, but Huq never gave up. Many tributes have mentioned that he was unfailingly kind, humble, and patient. He also had a spine of steel. Two days after the COP27 victory, he inspired a group of allies with words that still ring loudly today, and not just about climate change. “Most of the time we don’t win,” he said. “It’s an unlevel playing field. But occasionally, we win…. Just because things are going bad does not mean you can give up. You have to keep on going.”

From Us

COP28 webinars. What’s the difference between “carbon dioxide removal” and “carbon capture and storage,” and what role might each play in decarbonizing the global economy? Journalists are invited to join our webinar “Understanding Carbon Dioxide Removal Before COP28” with leading climate scientists Dr. Katharine Hayhoe and Sir David King. November 9. RSVP. 

CCNow will also host a webinar on navigating misinformation at COP28 on November 14. We will share an RSVP shortly.

Noteworthy Stories

Peak oil. Demand for climate-warming fossil fuels is likely to peak before 2030, signaling an accelerating global shift to clean energy, according to a new International Energy Agency report. But the transition needs to accelerate to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the temperature that scientists say will avoid the worst impacts of climate change. By Jeff Brady at NPR…

Acapulco. Hurricane Otis, which slammed Acapulco, Mexico last week, left nearly 100 dead or missing but “barely dented American news media.” Otis rapidly intensified from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in just 12 hours due to unusually warm waters linked to fossil fuel–driven climate change and El Niño. Op-ed by Will Bunch at The Philadelphia Inquirer…

Warming waters. A new USA Today series introduces readers to four fishers from around the US, who recount how climate change is impacting their industries and livelihoods. Facing warming waters, supercharged hurricanes, and rising fuel prices, fishers everywhere are navigating a new reality. By Trevor Hughes at USA TODAY…

Climate emergency. Alarmed by accelerating climate impacts and frustrated by the world’s sluggish response, scientists are increasingly using the word “emergency” to describe the climate crisis. Some 15,000 of them have now signed an open-letter to that effect in the peer-reviewed journal, BioSciences, which was first released in 2019. By Shannon Osaka at The Washington Post…

Green New Deal. A coalition of environmental groups will kick off a US national tour calling for more climate action via a Green New Deal. The first stop will be in Dearborn, Mich., on November 5. Additional events are planned in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Missouri, California, Illinois, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. By Dharna Noor at the Guardian…

Via Instagram

Freelance journalist Ritwika Mitra covers the consequences of climate change for people living in the Sundarbans, one of the largest mangrove forests in the world and the cyclone capital of India. In a CCNow Q&A, Mitra spoke about the disintegration of livelihoods and families in the region, and the uptick in human trafficking, often of women and young girls.

Events & Resources

Middle East drought. World Weather Attribution will release a study on the ongoing drought in Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The results, embargoed until November 8, will be presented at a press briefing on 7 November. RSVP.

Science reporting 101. SciLine will offer a one-hour crash course, led by former Washington Post science reporter Rick Weiss and neuroscientist Dr. Tori Espensen, on science journalism for local and general assignment reporters. November 8. RSVP.

Fracking 411. Scientists and health professionals will gather to discuss the critical implications of the Fracking Science Compendium 9.0, a new report synthesizing over 2,500 scientific, government, and journalistic findings on drilling and fracking, liquefied natural gas, gas stoves, and more. November 8. RSVP.

Climate vulnerable at COP28. World Resources Institute will host international policymakers and advocates for a webinar discussion of what a successful COP28 would look like, and how it could provide solutions for climate-vulnerable countries. November 9. RSVP.

Sustainable solutions. Join The 19th News at Arizona State University for a series of conversations about climate solutions and storytelling on the frontlines, featuring climate leaders from the US Southwest. November 13. RSVP.

Stocktake at COP28. The Caribbean Community Hangout, along with Climate Analytics Caribbean, will dive into what COP28 means for the Caribbean and explore the first-ever Global Stocktake. November 15. RSVP.

SEJ’s Environment + Energy. The Society of Environmental Journalists will hold its 12th annual Journalists’ Guide to Environment + Energy event in Washington, DC. Join virtually or in person to discuss major stories for the upcoming year with leading climate journalists and newsmakers. November 16. RSVP.

Automated solutions. The Associated Press has released five AI-powered tools, designed to help local reporters process data, produce transcripts, quickly release extreme weather alerts, and more.

Mapping vulnerability. The Environmental Defense Fund, Texas A&M University, and Darkhorse Analytics have launched the US Climate Vulnerability Index, a mapping tool aggregating 184 datasets on climate risks in more than 70,000 US communities. The index can provide journalists with important data on local climate impacts.

Industry News

Response needed. Earth Journalism Network is calling on all climate and environmental journalists to answer its latest survey, which aims to investigate how journalists see their role, and what challenges and opportunities they encounter in climate reporting. Submit a response by December 8.

Bookmark this. To combat anxiety and reflect the full story, Euronews Green compiles hopeful environmental stories on an ongoing basis. These stories can help journalists find inspiration for their own reporting.

Jobs, Etc.

Jobs. Mongabay is hiring an Africa editor for its French-language reporting. Apply by November 3. Current is seeking a reporter, and Chicago Tribune is hiring a politics reporter.

Fellowships + internships. Grist is offering four fellowships focused on environmental journalism. Earth Journalism Network invites applications for a year-long climate journalism fellowship. The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists is hiring a social media video fellow. Scientific American is looking for a graphics intern, a multimedia intern, and a news intern.