World leaders are meeting virtually this week to discuss much needed measures to address climate change, "the existential crisis of our time," according to U.S. President Joe Biden, who is hosting the Earth Day climate summit.
At the same time, another important climate conference is underway, the Global Youth Summit, involving kids and teens from around the world. Rather than getting wrapped up in climate politicking, like the adults, they are exchanging ideas and discussing what action needs to be taken to protect Earth before it's too late.
Licypriya Kangujam is among these young eco-activists. The 9-year-old has been campaigning against climate change since 2018, the same year teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg became active on the global stage. Licypriya is also part of Child Movement, an NGO she set up to help educate people in her home country of India to be more environmentally friendly in everyday life.
TBS eFM's Hyoung-joo Choi spoke to Licypriya about her start in climate activism, her experiences, and her hopes for the future.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: How did you first get involved in environmental issues at such a young age?
Licypriya: I was born in Manipur, which is a small and beautiful northeastern state of India. But I grew up in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. My birthplace is surrounded by lustrous mountains and an alluring atmosphere.
I came to Delhi in 2016 for the first time. But my life became messy due to high air pollution. Due to frequent floods in my village and surrounding areas, my family was forced to migrate to Delhi.
Later, I moved to Bhubaneswar for my schooling. My home in Odisha was hit by Cyclone Titli in 2018 and Cyclone Fani in 2019. All [these] incidents in my young life turned me into a young child climate activist.
Q: Child Movement is an organization you set up to raise awareness about how people can protect the planet by tackling climate change and natural disasters. What types of campaigns do you do?
Licypriya: Child Movement is a movement for children. You can say it's a people movement for climate justice. We do a lot of activities like get evidence to people. 'What is climate change? What is global warming? Why should we have lots of trees?' I've started a new initiative called Monday for Mother Nature, where we plant thousand of trees with school children every Monday, with a mission to plant one million trees every year. So far, we've planted 150,000 trees.
Also, we do a cleaning plastics campaign and we tell people we should not cut trees but plant more trees, because trees are the ultimate solution to fight climate change. Without trees we can't live in this world.
As of now, there are 300 members in Child Movement and about 40,000 children have participated in these campaigns.
Q: That's all very impressive. I've read about your initial campaign to address the issue of poor air quality across India. You have even designed a device called Sukifu. Can you tell us more about this?
Licypriya: Sukifu means 'Survival Kit for the Future.' My device and movement aim to send a strong message to all our leaders, scientists, experts and policy makers, and pollution makers about the environmental degradation vigilance, and to keep our planet clean....
The air quality in Delhi, where I'm currently living, is the worst in the world. Air pollution in India kills about 2 million people every year. It's the fifth largest killer. In Delhi, poor quality air damages the lungs of 2.2 million or 50% of all children. Sacrificing the lives of millions of innocent children because of the failures of our leaders is unacceptable at any cost.
Q: You have also been demanding new laws to try and curb India's high pollution levels. Exactly what kind of changes are you hoping to see?
Licypriya: I have three main demands to our leaders and government to change the system.
First one is to pass the climate change law as soon as possible, from paper to action. If they pass this climate change law, we can control carbon emissions and greenhouse gas, and it would give climate justice to poor and vulnerable people who are already victims of climate change.
The second demand is that our leaders should make climate change as a compulsory subject in our school education curriculum. If they included climate change in our school curriculum, then we can fight this from the grassroots. It would also help world leaders and climate deniers, by their own children and grandchildren, because they can't believe in science and climate change is real.
The third demand is that India has 250 million students. If they plant minimum 10 trees every year, then we would plant over 2.5 billion trees. Then, India will be green in five years.
Asking for clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, a clean planet to live on is our basic rights. All these rights are snatched away from us.
Q: U.S. President Biden is meeting with 40 world leaders at a virtual climate change summit. What would you like to tell these leaders?
Licypriya: I want the world leaders to take actions to save our planet and our future. I'm expecting a lot from this summit. We don't want empty and false promises. They have lied enough. I want to tell them to shut down all the coal power plants and thermal power plants and replace them with clean energy.
I have a dream where there are more electric or solar vehicles on roads instead of fossil fuel vehicles. I have a dream where there are more bicycles than motor vehicles. Riding a bicycle means that we can reduce traffic problems. Zero carbon emissions and zero noise pollution. This will save our wild green spaces from development.
Q: Licypriya, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Licypriya: I want to become a space scientist when I grow up. When I become a space scientist, I will make a solar rocket by myself and launch it to the moon and Mars. When I go there, I will research how we can grow crops and eat, and how we can get clean water to drink and clean air to breathe. I will research all these things because our planet may die soon.