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'India Is Facing Record Heatwaves Due To Climate Change': Young Activist Licypriya Kangujam

As summers turn harrowing with each passing year, bringing to the fore the lethal effects of climate change, Outlook speaks with 11-year-old, Manipur-born, young climate activist Licypriya Kangujam, to understand what it means for the youth to grow up in a world increasingly threatened by the woes of climate change. 

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Young climate activist Licypriya Kangujam at COP27.
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Neary 100 people died in the two most populous states of India, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, recently due to a sweltering heatwave. About 68 deaths were reported from UP’s Ballia district alone. But, soon after, questions were raised about the actual cause of the deaths. Were the deaths really caused by the heatwave?  

The World Meteorological Organisation, in May, warned that the world is likely to breach the 1.5 degree Celcius threshold (rise in temperature) in the next five years. As summers turn harrowing with each passing year, bringing to the fore the lethal effects of climate change, Outlook speaks with 11-year-old, Manipur-born, young climate activist Licypriya Kangujam, to understand what it means for the youth to grow up in a world increasingly threatened by the woes of climate change. 

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1) For a youth and a young climate activist, how scary does it feel to find the world burning (due to extreme heat)? 

Well! Not just India, but the world is facing a record heatwaves crisis due to the impact of climate change. In India, we, innocent children and people are the victims of the heatwave crisis in the summer and the air pollution crisis in the winter every year. It is causing more wildfires across the globe and glacier bursts across the Himalayas leading to frequent flash floods and deadly air pollution crises in many countries. It directly impacts the marginalized and poor people.

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Right now, I even can’t move out of my home due to an intense heat wave. I even can’t breathe properly inside the room. It’s scary to live in this situation.

2) As an activist, do you see the policymakers of the country taking the concept of climate change seriously?

I want to say that India is trying their best to fight the global climate crisis though it’s not enough yet. Instead of subsidizing fossil fuel and their companies, we need to subsidize clean and renewable energies. We need affordable clean energy for all including for poor people. In India currently, people use clean energy as a status symbol. We need to change this system. As the majority of the population in India suffers from an economic crisis, we need cheap solar and other clean energy sources so that everyone can afford them and it will help in transition to the clean energy in our country. Our government needs to act on this as soon as possible to achieve the Paris goals.

3) With heatwaves causing more and more deaths in the country, what do you feel about the exponential impact of climate change?

I was shocked to hear about the death of dozens of people in India last week due to severe heatwaves and also a few months back in Maharashtra. Literally, people in India are dying due to the heatwave crisis but our leaders failed to act on it. And still, we don’t get the answers from our leaders on what steps they’re taking to solve the crisis.

And, our leaders, who are sitting in AC rooms discussing heatwaves, will not help solve the problem of the climate crisis. They need to move out of their comfort zone. They must listen to the scientists. We need urgent climate action now.

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4) What onus do you think first-world countries need to bear in the context of climate change?

You see, today’s climate crisis is caused by the rich nations and we’re just the victims of it. That’s why we’re demanding climate justice in the form of climate finance to the poor developing nations who are the victims of the global climate crisis today.  We call it loss and damage.

In Africa, girl children are out of school to fetch water from a very long distance. In India, children are dying due to heatwaves and air pollution crises throughout the year. In Ethiopia, children are dying due to hunger. In Pakistan, children are dying due to flash floods. These are all the impacts of climate change.

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Besides, my country India is also facing frequent floods, massive droughts, air pollution, locust attack, etc. at the same time. We want climate justice.

5) What experiences of your life made you who you are today: a climate activist?

I was born in a small, beautiful, rich biodiversity state of India called Manipur. But today many of our rich biodiversity hotspots are now climate hotspots. Later, I moved to Odisha for my schooling. Again, my life was hit by Cyclone Title in 2018 and Cyclone Fani in 2019 in Odisha when I was just 6 years old. I saw many children and parents dying in front of my eyes. The situations were devastating. 

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Later I moved to Delhi. Again, I bore the brunt of high air pollution levels and heatwave crisis. Schools were shut down every week by the government. I thought that time has come when I, too, should raise my voice and must speak out for other innocent children and people who are facing these deadly crises every day. All such incidence in my young life turned me into a child climate activist. That’s how I started my child movement to defend our planet. 

I am already the victim of climate change; I don’t want my future generations to face the same consequences again.

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6) What do you think will help in reducing the impact of climate change and making it habitable for the children of tomorrow? 

Well! Climate change is not only for me or for you or for someone else. The problem of climate change is for every single person living in this world. Each and every child living in this country, living in this world, is already the victim of climate change. That’s why I am fighting to save our planet and our future. I strongly believe that children can lead the change.

We need more green spaces to fight the heat wave crisis and the air pollution crisis. We need massive tree plantations across the region. Especially for Delhi, we need to revive the dying Aravalli Forest Range which can act as a green wall for Delhi. Our little things can make a huge difference.

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Overall, We need to shut down all the coal power plants and thermal power plants and replace them with clean renewable energies. The government needs to subsidize the price of solar energy so that every citizen can easily access clean energy.

We need bicycle lanes on every road in Delhi. Riding a bicycle means zero air pollution, zero noise pollution, zero traffic problems, zero carbon emissions and zero money and it will keep our bodies healthy. And it will save our valuable green spaces from development Riding a bicycle means saving our planet!

Scientists also need to find out an alternative to air conditioners, I mean ACs. I think AC is also one of the major causes of the extreme heatwave crisis. We need to minimize the use of it by planting trees around our homes.

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We need just a transition away from coal, oil and gas – the top cause of the climate crisis today.

And, I have a dream where there are more bicycles on roads instead of more motor vehicles.
I have a dream that there are no coal power plants and thermal power plants and replace them with clean solar energy. I have a dream where all the children living in this world have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and a clean planet to live. Asking for clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and clean a planet to live on are our basic rights.
I just want to say that our expensive cars, beautiful homes, and money have no value on a dead planet.

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7) What are your few demands from the government? Why do you think there's a reluctance on the side of the governments to acknowledge the severity of climate change? 

I have six major demands from our leaders to bring a change in the system: 
1) To pass the climate change law in the parliament as soon as possible;
2) To make climate education mandatory in every school curriculum in India;
3) To ensure plantations of a minimum of 10 trees by each student in India;
4) To manage a just transition away from coal, oil and gas;
5) Rich nations must pay the loss and damage caused by the climate crisis to the global South, and
6) We want clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a clean planet to live.

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If they pass the climate law then we can control carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. It will also give climate justice to millions of poor vulnerable people and other marginalized communities who are the victims of climate change. It can bring accountability and transparency to the government. Making climate education mandatory in schools' curricula will help to fight the climate crisis from the grassroots.  Without climate education, there will be no climate solution

India has over 350 million students. If 350 million students plant a minimum of 10 trees every year, then we will plant 3.5 billion trees every year. Trust me; India will be green within five to 10 years. This will help fight air pollution, floods, droughts, heat waves and other environmental issues in the country.

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Governments must work together to manage a just transition away from coal, oil and gas – the top cause of the climate crisis. 

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