Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi-British scientist who played a leading role in trying to get rich nations to compensate poorer ones for the damaging effects of climate change largely brought about by the developed world, died on Saturday in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the capital. He was 71.
His death was confirmed by the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka, a research organization he directed and helped found. The newspaper The Daily Star in Bangladesh, to which he contributed a column, said the cause was a heart attack. He died at home, a family member said.
Mr. Huq (pronounced hook), who trained as a botanist, was perhaps the principal proponent of the idea that the developed world’s emissions of greenhouse gases were having a disproportionate impact on the climate in poorer countries, and that wealthy countries should pay for measures to curb or reverse those effects.
He was one of the few who had been to every United Nations-organized climate summit, or COP (for Conference of the Parties), since the first one in 1995.
At the most recent summit, in Egypt in 2022, he helped push through an international commitment to create a fund to pay for the damage. “It’s unfortunate that he won’t be able to see the fruit of it,” the family member, who asked not to be identified, said in a telephone interview. “He’s obviously irreplaceable.”
The British journal Nature named Mr. Huq one of “10 people who helped shape science in 2022.”
Those who knew him said he was deeply influenced by what he saw happening in his country. Climate change appeared to be unfolding in front of him, in real time, with effects on many Bangladeshis.
Cyclone Amphan, intensified by warmer ocean temperatures, displaced thousands in Bangladesh in 2020 after the storm destroyed their homes. “This is loss and damage to the livelihoods of the people,” he told The New York Times in 2021, using a phrase he called “a euphemism for terms we’re not allowed to use, which are ‘liability and compensation.’”
In his last piece of writing, a column in The Guardian written with Farhana Sultana of Syracuse University and published on Nov. 1, Mr. Huq struck a pessimistic note.
“Unfortunately, in many cases the damage has already been done,” the authors wrote. “In increasing numbers of places, adaptation is no longer possible — for instance, where displacement, ecosystem damage and loss of homeland to sea-level rise has already occurred. This is ‘loss and damage’ in real time.”
In The Daily Star, Mr. Huq wrote on Oct. 4 about the “world leaders” he deemed largely responsible for the greenhouse gas problem: “It is not that they are not doing anything, but that they are doing too little too late.”
In June, he wrote an open letter to the president of the forthcoming COP, in Dubai, describing how in Bangladesh, “every single day, over 2,000 climate-displaced people arrive by foot, cycle, boat and bus in Dhaka and disappear into the city slums.”
“No one is looking after them,” he added, “but they are people being forced to move by human-induced climate change and are hence the responsibility of the U.N.F.C.C.C.,” the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
He was not generally a pessimist, however. Colleagues remembered him as an inspirational figure whose continued insistence that poorer countries have a say in the global struggle over climate change appeared to be finally paying off.
Mr. Huq was a familiar and friendly presence at the COP and other global meetings on climate change, as ready to speak with journalists as to buttonhole movers and shakers.
Asif Saleh, the executive director of the Bangladesh-based international development organization BRAC, wrote of Mr. Huq in a tribute on LinkedIn: “At the COP event, he was one of the most sought after figures — journalists, negotiators, NGOs, young activists, govt ministers — all looked for a few minutes with him. He did not disappoint either. He would sit on a table and there would be a steady stream of people paying their dues to him.”
Mr. Huq’s fundamental message was that “climate change is real, and it is happening in these places, in the far corners of Bangladesh and Burundi,” said Achala Abeysinghe, Asia regional director at the Global Green Growth Institute in Seoul, in a phone interview.
“Unless there is a champion to talk about them,” she said, “nobody will.”
Saleemul Huq was born in Karachi, Pakistan, on Oct. 2, 1952, to Zahoorul and Shajeda Huq. His father was in Pakistan’s diplomatic service, and Mr. Huq grew up in Berlin, Nairobi, Djakarta and London.
He received a doctorate in botany from Imperial College London. In Bangladesh, he was a lecturer in botany at Dhaka University and helped found the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies, an environmental research organization.
Mr. Huq was also an associate of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, and he contributed to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
He is survived by his wife, Kashana Huq; his daughter, Sadaf Huq; and his son, Saqib.
“For him, the main thing was, there are no ‘victims’ of climate change,” said Dr. Lisa Schipper of the University of Bonn in Germany, an expert on climate change in the global south. “Everybody is an actor. He wanted us to look at people in Bangladesh as people with knowledge. He talked about Bangladesh as a laboratory. He wanted scholars and policymakers to come to Bangladesh, and he wanted to make sure developing countries got the money they were owed.”
Somini Sengupta contributed reporting.