Indian climate activist, 12, on Cop28 protest: I was expressing voices of the vulnerable

Licypriya Kangujam condemns ‘unfair’ removal from Cop28 session after protest

The National speaks to Cop protester Licypriya Kangujam

The National speaks to Cop protester Licypriya Kangujam
Powered by automated translation

A 12-year-old Indian campaigner removed from the Cop28 site in Dubai after disrupting a key session has demanded world leaders pay heed to climate concerns expressed by children.

Licypriya Kangujam, a vocal activist from the Meitei tribe in Manipur, north-eastern India, says UN security guards took away her badge and she was denied entry into the climate summit on Tuesday.

She was removed from the venue on Monday after she held up a poster calling to save the planet and for the end of fossil fuels.

“Asking for clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and a clean planet to live [in], all these are basic rights,” she told The National outside the Cop28 venue.

I was expressing the silent voices of millions of poor, vulnerable people, children who are the victims of today’s climate crisis
Licypriya Kangujam, 12

“Asking for those basic rights is completely unnecessary and we should have those basic rights right now.”

'Return our badges'

She criticised the handling of her protest and said she would not be silenced.

“I protested because I want leaders to act, they must fulfil the promises they have made,” she said.

“The UN guards taking my badge away like that at Cop28 is a gross violation of child rights.

“I had the right to protest and also I have the right to freedom of speech. I think it’s really unfair, they took my badge and my mum’s badge, even.

“How can they do that to a 12-year-old girl? They told me, ‘you should know how to behave like a good kid.’”

Her mother Bidyarani Devi Kangujam said she was frantic for about 30-40 minutes trying to find out where her daughter had been taken.

“I was in tension because I didn’t know how to reach her,” she said. “My daughter had protested but her protest is for the whole world, for all the children.

“These threats are of no use and they should return our badges.”

Both mother and daughter said they were told by security guards that they would not be able to attend future climate summits.

The UN has not responded to questions about the Indian activist being barred from entering the venue.

'Listen to young people'

Ms Kangujam started campaigning from the age of six and launched a voluntary group called Bal Andolan, or the Children’s Movement, in response to cyclones and heatwaves she has experienced in India.

She plants trees and organises cleanliness drives with other young people. She has attended three UN climate summits since Madrid in 2019.

Back in India, Ms Kangujam stages a protest every Friday calling for the phasing out of fossil fuels near the parliament building in New Delhi, India’s capital, where she lives with her family.

At Cop28, the young activist was also critical of the inadequate loss and damage fund for nations affected by climate action, under which about $800 million has been pledged to support countries in need.

“We want the money in hundreds of billions, not in millions,” she said.

“We don’t want the loss and damage fund to be in the form of loans or any kind of debt trap.”

She said she interrupted the Cop28 session because she was tired of leaders not listening to young people.

“I disrupted the high-level plenary at Cop28 because I wanted to speak out [about] the truth,” she said.

“I was expressing the silent voices of millions of poor, vulnerable innocent people, children who are the victims of today’s climate crisis.”

Ms Kangujam said most leaders would not be around to face the brunt of the climate crisis.

“They give us empty false promises,” she said.

“We, the children, the future generations, will be the ones facing the worst situation, on the front lines of the global climate crisis and we don’t want that.”

Updated: December 12, 2023, 5:41 PM