India's 'Greta Thunberg' is an eight year old speaking out for the Global South

Licypriya Kangujam at COP25
Press Trust of India

India's 'Greta Thunberg' is an eight year old speaking out for the Global South

While kids her age are learning addition and subtraction and reading Enid Blyton, eight-year-old Licypriya Kangujam from India has dropped out of school to battle climate change.

Speaking at the annual UN climate summit (COP25) in Madrid on December 10, the young activist from Manipur urged global leaders to "act now against climate change." That is a message she has already delivered in 21 countries.

Spanish newspapers have been calling Licypriya the 'Greta' of the Global South. Greta Thunberg is the climate activist from Sweden who is now being hailed throughout the world.

Licypriya with Greta Thunberg
Licypriya with a message for the Prime Minister of India / Credit: Shakoor Rather

Licypriya nearly missed the chance to give her message to the world.

According to her father, K.K. Singh, who accompanied her to Spain, several requests to the government to help her with funding fell on deaf ears. When the UN invited her to the summit, the family had no idea how they would get the money to travel to Spain. Singh said the family sent email requests to several ministers, including Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, for sponsorship, but got no reply. They tried to crowdfund the trip.

Then someone from Bhubaneswar bought tickets for Licypriya and her father. And "my mom broke her gold chain and finally booked my hotels," Licypriya said. However, her father added, just a day before leaving for Madrid on November 30, they got an email from the Spanish government saying their accommodation for the 13-day event would be sponsored by the host country.

Making it to Madrid after crossing so many hurdles made Licypriya even more determined to ensure she is heard. 

"I have come here to tell the world leaders that this is the time to act as it is a real climate emergency," she told the audience at a "high level" event during the summit.

Licypriya had to drop out of school in February as she could not attend most of her classes. Activism, including participating in a weekly protest outside Parliament, took up most of her time. But she has not given up on her education altogether.

According to Singh, Licypriya is the world's youngest climate activist. In 2018, when she was just six years old, she attended the third Asia Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

"It was my life-changing event," she says. "During the conference, I met many world leaders and also thousands of delegates from various countries of the world. Many had highlighted various issues of disaster. I cry when I see children losing their parents and people becoming homeless due to the danger of disasters. My heart feels sorrowful for people who can’t help themselves when disaster strikes. Many root causes are the impact of climate change.”

Just after her return from Mongolia, Licypriya started an organisation called The Child Movement with help from her father. The idea was to call on world leaders to take immediate climate action to save the planet and the future of young children like her.

So far, Singh said, Licypriya has travelled to 21 countries and spoken at more than 60 places as part of her movement. 

"I travel place to place to raise my concerns about climate change and disaster risk reduction to the people of the world,” she explains.

Licypriya was seen holding a poster demanding that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi pass a law to deal with climate change.

Licypriya with Greta Thunberg
Licypriya says she is inspired by Greta Thunberg / Credit: Shakoor Rather

At the high-level meeting within the summit, Licypriya spoke alongside several political leaders from around the globe. She made an emotional appeal to world leaders to act before it is too late.

"I’m coming here to tell the world leaders that this is the time for action. What I want is not about today or tomorrow but what needs to be done now,” she said.

Licypriya noted in her speech that when she was born world leaders had already held 16 climate summits, and they already knew about the bad effects of climate change.

“Our policymakers from around the world just gather every year at COPs and do nothing concrete for our future,” she charged. “Why should I come here? Why I should speak here? I have to go to my school. I have to read my books. I have to play. I have to study. But our leaders have ruined my childhood life and my beautiful future. This is not fair.”

She noted that young climate activists like her want “a system change, not the climate change.” Governments must act on what they promised, she added, referring to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to limit global temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times.

Licypriya was born in Imphal but has lived most of her life in Delhi and Bhubaneswar. She is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam. "Greta Thunberg has also greatly influenced me since February 2019,” she added.

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