“Clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a clean planet to live in” are the simple, yet urgent requests of Licypriya Kangujam, a young and outspoken environmental activist from India who recently championed her cause to global leaders at COP27 in Egypt.
Licypriya is the founder of The Licypriya Foundation and The Child Movement: “A people’s movement for climate justice and child rights.” She is a decorated international award winner, including accolades such as the 2019 World Children Peace Prize Laureate and the 2021 International Women’s Day Award Winner (on behalf of the Delhi Government), and has also received a special mention in Forbes India’s 30 Under 30 list last year.
When she was six years old – only four years ago, yes she just turned 11 – Licypriya began her cause by campaigning against the lack of climate mitigation in her country, protesting outside the Indian Parliament for a whole week.
Over the past few years, she has demonstrated impressive existential clarity on global priorities that world leaders much older than her are still unable to grasp.
As an outspoken young leader of India’s climate movement, Licypriya currently works in London as an advisor to the Child Rights International Network (CRIN), and continues to raise her unique voice to protect the natural environment for both her and other children’s futures.
She is certainly no stranger to challenging the perspectives, policies, and agendas of those much older than her, as she has regularly addressed world leaders, governments, and TED Talk audiences on behalf of the planet and people of the Global South.
Licypriya has spoken at over 400 institutions and events in over 32 countries, most recently at COP27, and has helped push for the establishment of pollution-curbing laws and mandatory climate change curricula in schools in India.
Even at her young age though, Licypriya has faced adversity in making her voice heard.
She has previously had to drop out of school to conduct solo overnight protests, she’s been detained by local police for her trailblazing activism, and has endured several attempts from the Indian government to tarnish her image and cause.
Despite this, she continues to resiliently persist in her humanitarian mission to raise millions of rupees for the environment, marginalised sufferers of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the worst affected victims of the climate crisis.
Licypriya Kangujam might be one of the youngest climate activists globally, but her voice, wisdom, and ambitions are much bigger than those of many others five times her age. Here is what the young activist told us in an interview following COP27.
How did you develop your interest in climate issues? Was there a specific event or person that inspired you to become an activist?
Licypriya Kangujam: I belong to a small indigenous community in India called the Meitei tribe. My birthplace, Manipur, is surrounded by lush green mountains and an alluring atmosphere full of rich biodiversity. Unfortunately, many rich biodiversity hotspots like this are now becoming climate hotspots.
For my schooling, I moved to Bhubaneswar, Odisha, where I grew up. But in 2018, when I was just six years old, my life was turned upside down by Cyclone Title, and then again by Cyclone Fani in 2019 in Odisha. When I moved to Delhi in 2019, my life was again completely messed up by high levels of air pollution and the heatwave crisis in Delhi. All of these incidents in my young life turned me into a child climate activist.
You see, India is facing lots of environmental issues like floods, droughts, heatwaves, cyclones, locusts, air pollution and much more all at the same time. These are all the impacts of climate change. Many indigenous tribal people are losing their forest and land rights due to deforestation and mining activities. This is unacceptable — deforestation must be an international crime.
I will continue to fight for clean air, clean water and a clean planet, as they are our basic rights. We are unstoppable, another world is possible, and change is possible!
How did this lead you to the creation of the initiative “Plastic Money Shop” to eliminate single-use plastics from daily lives?
Licypriya Kangujam: “Plastic Money Shop” is an initiative to eliminate single-use plastic in my country. The concept is for people to bring in any single-use plastic waste from their homes, and in return they can collect rice, school stationery items or a sapling [young tree] for free.
It’s a mobile shop based in Delhi, and runs purely on solar energy. We move from school to school, one location to another, as well as to places like colleges and universities. We accept only single-use plastic waste as money, and produce eco-friendly road tiles, house roof sheets, school benches, desks, bricks and more by upcycling the plastic waste we receive.
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“Plastic Money Shop” stops tonnes of single-use plastic waste from reaching our lakes, rivers, seas, landfills and oceans, which otherwise would pollute the environment. We’re saving our planet with our little efforts.
Now, I am planning to upgrade and expand this initiative to other cities in India, as well as other countries across the world.
You’ve just returned from COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Do you believe youth groups really had a space to be involved at COP27 and influence decisions? And were they free to demonstrate?
Licypriya Kangujam: Generally, the involvement of youth was bigger this year at COP27, but there is still little space for children. Most of our voices are represented by older people, like mature youths or adults.
In my point of view, children’s voices must be represented by real children. Our voices, our thoughts, and our feelings are unique and different from adults, and the world deserves to listen to the voices of children if we really want to solve the climate crisis.
What are your thoughts on the final outcomes of COP27, and what are your expectations for COP28? Will you be there?
Licypriya Kangujam: Overall, COP27 was a big failure. Our leaders failed to appropriately address the core issues of oil, coal and gas — the top causes of the climate crisis — and there was an absence of phasing out fossil fuels in the final text of COP27.
Yes, establishing the loss and damage fund at the end of COP27 was a major step forward for climate justice, for the millions of poor vulnerable people of the Global South who are the worst victims of the climate crisis, but this is simply the moral responsibility of rich nations.
Still, there is no clarity as to who will pay whom, or how much and when the loss and damage will be paid. I hope COP28 will provide clarity, and will instead be a climate progress summit.
I am planning to showcase my “Plastic Money Shop” at COP28 in Dubai next year, and not only that, I plan to drive my shop all the way from Delhi to Dubai to attend the conference with my mom. I hope this will send a message to the world about the global plastic pollution crisis, and also promote clean renewable energy.
How do you see the future of youth activism, and what would be your advice to young people in approaching these hardening times?
Licypriya Kangujam: Climate activism is all about bringing change. Fighting climate change means fighting for our safe future. I am a child who strongly believes that every child living in this world also has the power to change the world. Young people need to keep speaking up about the climate crisis, and need to hold lawmakers accountable for their political decisions.
Social media is a very powerful weapon we can use to mobilise young people to fight climate change, to ensure our voices are heard and to change the system. Children can inspire each other to save our planet and future. I inspire my friends in school, and now many of them are involved in climate activism. They have taken inspiration from me and have stopped using single-use plastic in their homes, as well as regularly joining cleanliness drives, climate protests, massive tree plantations, and much more.
Our leaders are giving beautiful speeches, but they are doing nothing. They’re just busy blaming each other instead of finding a long-term solution. The world is doing nothing to protect children’s dreams and futures, but there will be no climate justice without them.
As per recent reports, 40% of the insect population has gone, as has 70% of animal species, 69% of our forests, and 40% of the Himalayan glaciers. Small island-countries like the Maldives, Fiji, Timor Leste, and Kiribati are disappearing due to rising sea levels.
Many of our rivers and lakes are now dry and dead, unusual cyclones are devastating millions of homes every year, habitats of countless voiceless animals are now used for mining, wildfires are killing millions of animals every year, and many forests are now transformed into deserts. But our leaders still don’t panic?
What they do panic about is tomato soup being thrown over sunflower artwork, arresting and silencing the climate activists and indigenous rights activists who are defending our planet. There is no value in art on a dead planet. We need to change our behavior to save our planet.
Our crops have dried. Our livestock is dying. Our wildlife populations are crumbling from droughts. Our girls are missing out on school to trek long distances for water. Climate change isn’t something we’re anticipating, it’s our reality.
If there is no nature, then there will be no food, no growth, no security, and no future, and if we don’t know how to fix it, then we should stop breaking it!
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Licypriya Kangujam at COP27. Featured Photo Credit: Licypriya Kangujam.