'Don't call me Indian Greta Thunberg,' says young climate activist Licypriya Kangujam

Ten-year-old is desperately trying to raise money to attend Cop27 summit in Egypt

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For the past week, 10-year-old activist Licypriya Kangujam has been selling tea and coffee at a stall in a small market in Greater Noida, a satellite city outside the capital New Delhi, to raise funds to fly to Egypt.

She is India’s youngest environmentalist and one of the country's most vocal voices on climate change, which is already leading to disastrous consequences for its huge population.

Licypriya, known as Licy, has been desperately raising money to attend the UN climate change summit Cop27, which is being held from November 6 to 18 in Egypt.

“I am fighting to save our planet and our future. I am the voice of the millions of children of the world and millions of countless and voiceless animals,” Licypriya told The National.

“Climate education plays a major role in fighting climate change. There will be no climate solution without climate education.

"We need to keep speaking up about the climate crisis and hold lawmakers accountable for their political decisions."

Licypriya Kangujamsaid two deadly cyclones in India 'turned me into a child climate activist'. Photo: Licypriya Kangujam

Licypriya was born in remote Manipur state, in the country’s north-east, to Kanarjit Kangujam and Bidyarani Devi Kangujam Ongbi.

She grew up in Bhubaneswar in eastern Odisha where her father worked as doctor at a hospital.

While she had a normal upbringing, it was the deadly Cyclone Titli in 2018 and Cyclone Fani the next year — which killed dozens and rendered millions homeless — that Licypriya says changed her life.

She said she was shocked by these climatic events and embarked on a journey as a climate activist at the age of just six.

“During the cyclones, many people lost their lives and many children lost their parents and thousands of people became homeless. I was very sad. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t drink. I couldn't even take food,” she said.

“The incidents turned me into a child climate activist to raise my voice to save our planet and our future.”

Licypriya Kangujam leads the historic Great October March 2019 during India's biggest rural climate strike.

Licypriya moved to Delhi with her parents in 2019 and started protesting outside the parliament, demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi pass a climate change law, bringing media attention to her cause.

She has since ferociously demanded stricter laws to battle climate change and making climate education compulsory in schools.

Licypriya also founded the Child Movement, an organisation that calls on world leaders “to take urgent climate action to save our planet and our future”.

She is active on social media platforms such as Twitter, where she has more than 163,000 followers, where she draws attention to climate change and environmental issues.

Licypriya spoke at global platforms including the United Nations Disaster Conference in Mongolia in 2018.

She attended the UN General Assembly in New York City in September to participate in programmes on climate and education.

Indian climate activist Licypriya Kangujam, 9, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

She has spoken about climate change at 400 institutions, schools and colleges in more than 30 countries.

“Many people told me that I am too young to get involved in such activism, but age doesn’t matter to make a difference," she said.

"I am working on the topics like climate education, air pollution and climate law, taking urgent climate action by our world leaders and implementing it across the globe."

Her voice has also helped in the fight against pollution.

In June, she persuaded officials in Agra in northern Uttar Pradesh to clean up litter from the Taj Mahal, the world-famous 400-year-old marble mausoleum.

She had posted a picture of a rubbish tip behind the Unesco site, with a sign that read “Behind the Beauty of Taj Mahal is Plastic Pollution”.

“The plastic was cleaned within 24 hours and the authority was fined 100,000 rupees,” she said.

She was also detained for demonstrating outside the President House following her week-long protest to demand new laws to fight air pollution in Delhi.

After her protest and demands by health activists and doctors, the government brought in a new law that increased punishments and fines for polluters.

But her main concerns are clean air and water, the replacement of coal power plants with solar energy, and reducing dependability on motor vehicles. She also blames the “rich countries” for failing to fight climate change.

“World leaders need to trust each other to solve the global climate crisis. We cannot deny the fact that climate injustice is deeply rooted in racism, capitalism and colonialism,” she said.

“As per historical data of the global carbon emissions, the global south is responsible for less than 10 per cent of it, but we’re the biggest victim of the global climate crisis today. Rich countries must pay for the loss and damage.”

Her activism has led many to compare her with Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg, but Licypriya says she does not like the comparison.

“I have my own name, my own story and my own identity," she said. "If the media call me Greta of India, then they are not writing my story, they are deleting a story.”

She faces bullying and abuse on social media, with some calling her a fraud and her cause propaganda.

But the criticism and threats, she says, will not silence her.

Updated: November 07, 2022, 8:02 AM
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