Interview: Atlas Sarrafoğlu
I first saw Licypriya Kangujam when I went to COP25 in Madrid. I did not know exactly what she was doing, but it was not difficult to understand that she did a lot of things for the climate crisis and succeeded in her work, the way she stood up and talked with the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Later, I learned that she founded the “Child Movement” when she was 6 years old in India. In addition to climate and environmental activism, she tries to be “the voice of the voiceless”.
On 27 July 2019 she was awarded with a Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Children Award by the Khwad Foundation. She received a World Children Peace Prize from Global Peace Index – Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) on 31 August 2019. She also received an India Peace Prize, along with Gaur Gopal Das and Dinesh Subasinghe, from the International Youth Committee (IYC) at the World Youth Summit in 30 September 2019. On 2 October 2019, Licypriya was honored with the title Rising Star by Earth Day Network Headquarter based in Washington DC, USA.
While I was doing my interview with her she receieved the “Noble Citizen Award 2020” from the Minister of Social Development, Government of Nepal. These awards are just to name a few. We heard about her last when she told the media to stop calling her “Greta of India”. Such a brave and true remark from a child! So as a climate activist myself, I wanted to let her stroy and voice be heard first.
Stop calling me “Greta of India”. I am not doing my activism to look like Greta Thunberg. Yes, she is one of our Inspiration & great influencer. We have common goal but I have my own identity, story. I began my movement since July 2018 even before Greta was started.
Atlas: Please tell us how you learned about climate change and the story behind it.
Licypriya: Since my birth, I started attending various international conferences, meetings, seminars and workshops accompanying my father who was also a local activist. Adapting to social works and love and care for the environment is like in my blood. Various incident like Nepal Massive Earthquake of 2015, I accompanied my dad for fund raisings during that time as a child to help the victim’s children and families.
Then, went all the way from India to Kathmandu, Nepal, on the road carrying relief boxes and food items. I cry when I see children losing their parents and people becoming homeless due to danger of disasters. My heart feels sorrow for people who can’t help themselves when disaster strikes. And also i visited many areas of landslides since early childhood time. Many root causes of such natural disasters are the impact of Climate Change.
In July 2018 when I was just six years old, I got an opportunity to attend a meeting called 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risks Reduction 2018 (AMCDRR 2018) in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. I first raised my voice there to the world leaders. It was my life changing event.
During the conference, I met many great leaders and also thousands of delegates from various countries of the World. Many had highlighted various issues of disaster and climate change. It was my life changing event.
Just after return back home from Mongolia, I started an organization called “The Child Movement” on 10th July, 2018 to call on world leaders to take immediate climate action to save our environment, our planet and our future. I travel place to place to raise my concerns about climate change and disaster risks reduction. So far, I traveled over 32 countries till today as a part of my movement. When i begin the movement, I was alone but today, I have thousands of loves and supporters across the globe.
What made you want to start your strikes? What was the reason for you to decide to sit with your placard in front of the Parliament in 2018?
My first parliament strike was on February 2, 2019. Before that I moved place to place to create awareness on climate change especially targeting young children and youth and also attended various important global meetings to raise my voice..
Greta Thunberg greatly influenced me in February 2019. Since then, at parliament house of India, I am standing and I am telling our Hon’ble Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi & our MPs to ratify in climate change law in order to turn it into action. If they ratify in the climate law then we can control carbon emissions and green house gases. And also, it can bring accountability and transparency to the government.
Once they ratify in the climate change law, it will benefit millions of people in the country especially poor and marginalized communities who are already the victims of climate change. I dropped out my school since February 2019 due to my protests every week in front of the parliament house.
What made you decide to drop out of school?
There are two main reasons. Firstly, my school is located in Bhubaneswar which is about 3000 km far from New Delhi where Parliament house is located. So, it’s impossible for me to travel every week to Delhi to protest every week in front of the parliament house of India due to financial burden so, I decided to leave Bhubaneswar and dropped out my school so that i can strengthen my movement and also help raise my voice to reach the whole world;
Secondly, many national, local and international organizations invited me to speak for various events. I received lots of emails everyday for various program invitations. It led to major issues in attending the school as i was in a very difficult situation where I was confused either to accept or to reject their invitations. If i rejected, people are going to propaganda, i’m ego, etc. So, Most of my time in 2019 ends in my protests, movements and attending various events. This also leads to school dropouts. But I have home schooling during the period of school dropouts.
But since 2020 January, I have resumed my studies as I have decided to accept program invitations only on weekends and also holidays like summer and winter vacation except UN official events as it’s already scheduled annual events.
What is ‘Child Movement’ and how is it different from Fridays For Future strikes?
Child Movement is a voluntary movement of the children to raise our voice on any global issue which affect us. Issue can be anything starting from climate change to our rights. Till now, I focus mainly on Environment and Climate Change as it’s a pressing issue which is already affecting us and will have more catastrophic impacts to us after some years. If we don’t fight for it now then it will be too late when we finish our schooling.
And Fridays For Future is especially for Climate Change cause. Only difference is the Child Movement will take diverse issues which are all concern and related with children and Fridays For Future strikes will focus mainly on Climate Change. For example, sometimes we raise our voice for rape victims’ children for justice.
As I said earlier, simply protest, raising slogans on streets doesn’t make any sense to today’s leaders. We don’t achieve anything. But we can say it’s one of the way for awareness to public but isn’t effective at all until we do in action what we speak out or what we think. We should walk the talk at our home and working places otherwise no value to protest on this cause.
Overall, it’s a positive change in this world to save our environment, our planet and our future. However, we need to go ahead with a strategy to lobby them. Because there are many things in climate change which we can bring a change instead of only protest on streets with large number of children and youth.
A clear example; I requested Government of Rajasthan on January 9 to include climate change as a compulsory subject in the school education curriculum. They immediately took up the issue and I received a letter on 13 January (within a week) from Sachin Pilot, Deputy CM of Rajasthan that they have started process to do the same as requested.
This means only protest in streets is not going to achieve everything, i mean our demands. So, we need strategic approach and lobby and also at the same time sensitization to our leaders to understand the things. Now India is going to be second after Italy and first in Asia implementing climate change as a compulsory subject in the school curriculum. Rajasthan now become the first state in India. This is a big change to bring for just an 8-years-old child. Now other states will follow.
Protests on streets must be kept as a last option when our leaders don’t listen our voice on request. However, I fully support FFF and Greta also supports me. We support each other.
What’s the difference of the climate change situation in your country vs the rest of the world?
If you ask me what is climate change situation India and how it’s different from others then i want to reply like this way, Climate Change is everywhere. You can’t just see one state or a country. Some may have less impact but many have large impacts due to this climate change. We need to fight unitedly with global leaders.
Due to lack of trust amongst our leaders, now we are about to reach this catastrophic points. Many biodiversity hotpots become climate hotpots now. They must act now otherwise our future will be dying soon. What we want is not about today or tomorrow, it’s what needs to be done NOW.
Recently you have criticized the environment minister’s comments on Delhi’s air pollution. Do you think our lawmakers take climate change seriously?
It’s a very shameful statement from one of the respected environment minister of a country. This is a proof that our leaders never bother about our planet or our future. I heard this when i was in Madrid, Spain during the COP25. When my foreign colleagues told me about it, I suddenly felt shame for my country and left the place.
Our leaders must be very careful before they speak out anything to the public or the media. I am wondering how he could be our environment minister. More than 4.6 million children die every year due to air pollution but our minister is saying air pollution doesn’t effect our health and it doesn’t kill any people.
And also Our Hon’ble PM founded International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015 with French Government. But in the last 5 years, total coal import in India is increased by 13%. I appreciate the efforts but I want to question him; is this the green new deal to fight the climate change?
So, this is a clear example that our leaders are never serious about the climate change. They will say something and will do something else. I want to tell our Hon’ble Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi to stop buying coal from Australia. Instead of spending billions of dollars on buying coal, I want him to invest it on producing renewable energy which is cheaper. And also this can create millions of jobs for our youth.
…minimum 10 tree plantations for all students of India to pass the final exam. In India, we have 350 million students. If 350 million students plant minimum 10 trees every year then we will plant 3.5 billion trees a year. Trust me! India will be green in 5 years.
You say you expect “a system change, not climate change.” What do you expect to see?
I feel we need to change from grassroots to global levels to fight climate change. In the context of India, I am fighting to change the following three main policies:
Firstly, I want our government to enact the climate law so that we can regulate the carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases. And also this will bring transparency and accountability to our leaders. This will benefit especially millions of poor people in the country.
Secondly, compulsory inclusion of climate change as a subject in our school curriculum.
Thirdly, minimum 10 tree plantations for all students of India to pass the final exam. In india, we have 350 million students. If 350 million students plant minimum 10 trees every year then we will plant 3.5 billion trees a year. Trust me! India will be green in 5 years.
All the above three policies are possible to change and others countries of the world can follow the same. This can help to fight the climate change and also to change the system of the world.
What do you expect to see for the climate change law?
1) Complete ban of fossil fuel run vehicles by 2030 to cut carbon emissions & replace by solar and electric vehicles;
2) Strict law to stop cutting down of trees,
3) No new buildings if they don’t have space to grow minimum 20-30 trees,
4) Control of green house gases, etc.
What do you think of COP25?
I see this in two perspectives:
1) In individual perspective: I got lots of exposure and it’s another new learning experience for me. I got the chance to raise my voice. I met Greta Thunberg. I am happy for it.
2) In global perspective: I went there to tell the world leaders that this is real climate emergency. They must act now to save our planet and our future.
I also met United Nations Secretary General and Greta Thunberg during that program and also many world leaders there.
I also heard many speeches from our leaders that I will do this, we will do this, we are trying our best, we will tell them, we will not do, we will listen all your voice, we will, we will, we will…..…..
But at the end, COP25 was failed. Just waste of time and money of spending two weeks in this one of the most expensive city of the World.
Our leaders failing us for the last 25 years even before I was born. When I was born, our leaders already met 16 times in the COPs and the world already knew about the bad effects of climate change. Our policy makers from around the world just gather here in COPs and do nothing concrete for our future.
And also in the World Economic Forum 2020, we told our leaders to abandon the fossil fuel economy. Let’s stop telling and do something. Children are smarter and more concerned than our leaders. We want climate action now without wasting any more time. [I was one of the signatory in the letter issued to all participants of WEF 2020 to abandon fossil fuel economy among 19 others including Greta, Isabella, Luisa, Vanessa, etc]
One important question is why children came out on streets instead of going to school? This is mainly due to inaction of our leaders. They are responsible for it. Children are smarter and more concerned for our planet and the future than our leaders.
What did it feel like to meet other young activists across the world as you fight for action on climate change?
We were sad when we met each other. Because our voices become useless due to our leaders inaction. But we sat, discussed and planned future course of action. Our leaders have ignored us and still ignoring us. And we have not achieved anything despite young people raised their voice for urgent climate action.
Do you think the responsibility of leading the fight against climate change should be on children?
Not exactly. If children have to fight then we have to give up many things like school dropouts, etc which is really not a good idea. One important question is why children came out on streets instead of going to school? This is mainly due to inaction of our leaders. They are responsible for it. Children are smarter and more concerned for our planet and the future than our leaders.
‘Media tries to differentiate us’
Lots of people heard you when you called out the media for calling you “Greta of India”. What do you want to say for this?
Yesterday in the morning when I search my name on Google, I found some national and international media referring my works as Greta of India. Actually, I already began a movement to fight climate change even before Greta started in August 2018.
We are good friends. If they address us this way, sometimes we feel shy in front of her when we meet her. Because we equally respect each other. Media seems like to differentiate us. But I want to ask on what ground or capacity. She is also a Climate Activist. I’m also a Climate Activist. We are same. We have millions of voices. We’re just one. So I feel its right time to address my concern otherwise in future it may lose my identity, my unique story, etc.
And also even in COP25, I traveled all the way from India to Europe by raising funds not to refer my news as Greta of India. I addressed the world leaders but some media highlighted as “India’s Greta urge world leaders to act on climate change”. I think such news headline is not fair. I want to question if they’re highlighting my voice or someone’s voice. As compared to Greta with me, she is already on another level as global voice with great recognition. That’s why I wrote in my Twitter:
If you call me Greta of India, you are not covering my story. You are deleting a story.
Few days back also, I went to address some conferences, instead of calling out my name, they call me out as Greta of India which it hurts me a lots. And people even when came to take my pictures, they asked me, “Are you Greta of India?” like this way. I think this is not fair.
This problem is everywhere. Every climate activist in any region or country of the world are referred to as Greta of those areas. They can’t voice against it to the media but we had several discussions in the past when we met. Because this deletes their unique story, identity, name and movement. Now from now on, all types of media will learn a new lesson and will be more cautious before writing a story so that unique stories of all climate activists of the World will come out.