Meet the Member – Centre for Climate Change and Development

By Dr Saleemul Huq on 10 December 2019

In our latest instalment of Meet the Member we speak to Saleemul Huq from the Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) – one of the leading research and capacity building organisations working on climate change and development in Bangladesh. ICCCAD’s aim is to develop a world-class institution that is closely related to local experience, knowledge and research in one of the countries that is most affected by climate change.

Why did you join the Rapid Transition Alliance?

I feel that we need to treat the climate crisis as a true emergency and need to make the transition as quickly as possible to a fossil fuel free world. We can do this better if we join together and support each other.

What for you is the biggest challenge of rapid transition?

The biggest challenge is the vested interests, who have fought continually to hold their position of power, are fighting us now and will continue to fight us in the future. We can no longer give them the benefit of the doubt. They will never be convinced and we need to stop trying to convince them; instead, we will have to fight them. This means taking them on – particularly the fossil fuel interests and the industry itself. It means calling them out as climate criminals – including anyone who works for them, supports them by investing, or supports them politically. These people are all acting criminally. What is interesting is that their own children are calling them out. No one gets a free pass any more to do what they want. They either join the efforts to tackle climate change on the side of the just or they are on the wrong side and we will fight them.

What is your organisation doing to encourage rapid transition?

ICCCAD works at the other end of the spectrum, with the most vulnerable communities, who are suffering the impact of climate change – although they are not the people who caused it. Ours is mostly a rescue operation – just as we saw recently in the Bahamas, where the death toll continues to mount and which has definitely been caused by climate change. We work with the victims on the ground to help them cope with the trauma and damage. It is important to stress that the people who die and are suffer in these disasters have small carbon footprints – much smaller than ordinary citizens in developed countries and many times smaller than rich people everywhere.

Bangladesh’s journey towards tackling poverty and climate change’ talk given  by Saleemul Huq at the Institute of Development Studies, March 2019. 

This climate injustice must be recognised – the rich causing pollution and harm directly to the poor. This is inhuman, injust and not to be tolerated. Even the Pope recognises this! We are now in a climate emergency, which means all hands on deck. Everyone is involved, everyone has to make their own personal decision about how to deal with what is hitting planet earth – all seven billion of us. It’s not just a case of looking at our own town or country. Everyone needs to figure out what their role is and to do what they can. This will vary from place to place, but it is up to individuals: every British, French and German person must do this. There is a big divide between adults and children here. Perhaps some people are ignorant and still don’t realise they are leaving behind a big problem for their children, but it is hard to see how anyone can keep their head in the sand now – every single person must take responsibility.

What is your favourite example of rapid transition?

Our country of Bangladesh is a great example – we are the most Rapid Transition country when it comes to climate change. We are 163 million people living in, on and around the deltas of three major rivers. We are going to be hit by floods, cyclones and sea level rise – and we can see some of this already. But we are not sitting idle; instead, we are building our own resilience in the form of the best early cyclone warning system in the world. We warn and evacuate over 2 million people on a regular basis. Residents in areas most under threat track incoming cyclones on their phone, they know where the shelters are; and they run a social warning system to make sure everyone who needs to can get to one. Recently a cyclone hit India and Bangladesh, but we were ready. Bangladesh suffered fewer than 100 deaths, and these were fishermen caught out at sea when the storm hit. The death toll on land has been brought down to zero. By way of contrast, our neighbours in Myanmar recently lost over 100,000 people in a similar cyclone, because they were unprepared. Bangladeshi children learn in school about cyclones, people carry out house to house evacuations in their local areas, and kids look after their elders, who are often more reluctant to leave their homes. This is well organised social capital in action – people know what to do and the way they have reduced deaths from cyclones is remarkable. Young people are also active on climate change and there is now strong Fridays for Future group in Bangladesh who will be taking part in the global Climate Strikes.

What one thing would best help the task of rapid transition?

Global collective action led by young people is vital, because they have the right ideas. Even in the US, there are growing and significant plans for transition coming from the young, whose ideas about climate change are finally percolating into Democratic party policy. They are now treating this as a serious, real issue and there is less denial. There are now Presidential contenders saying they will not take funds from the oil industry, which is a first and a huge change.


Dr Saleemul Huq

Dr. Saleemul Huq is the Director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development (ICCCAD) since 2009. Dr. Huq is also a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED).