NEW DELHI: Ten-year-old climate activist Licypriya Kangujam made national headlines in June when she drew India’s attention to plastic pollution surrounding the renowned Taj Mahal.
With a cardboard placard in hand and the famous monument as her background, Kangujam posed by the trash-filled Yamuna river bank in Agra. As the photo gained traction on social media and prompted authorities to conduct a clean-up, it also brought nationwide recognition to their environmental activism.
“It was one of the biggest successes in my activism to date,” Kangujam told Arab News.
She is only 10, but Kangujam has been campaigning for action to tackle climate change in India since 2018.
Kangujam was born in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur and later moved to the eastern state of Odisha, where she witnessed Cyclone Titli in 2018 and Cyclone Fani in 2019, which destroyed homes and killed hundreds of people.
A year later, she moved to Noida on the outskirts of the Indian capital New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities.
“All such incidents in my young life turned me into a child climate activist to raise my voice to save our planet and our future,” Kangujam said.
In 2018, the fifth-grade student founded the Child Movement, a body that aims to raise awareness on climate justice and child rights. She has also been pushing for new laws to curb India’s high pollution levels and wants climate change lessons to be mandatory in schools.
“The Child Movement calls on world leaders to take urgent climate action,” Kangujam said.
India struggled with an intense heatwave in its northern region earlier this year, with temperatures hitting a record of 49.2 degrees Celsius in parts of New Delhi in May. The climate crisis, scientists said, made those extreme temperatures more likely.
Against this urgent backdrop, Kangujam launched on July 10 a mobile “plastic money shop” — a project aimed at raising awareness on plastic pollution.
The initiative coincides with India’s nationwide ban on more than a dozen types of single-use plastics, which went into force this month. According to Kangujam, the policy can only be effective with more public awareness on the issue.
India is among the countries responsible for producing the most plastic pollution, with government figures from 2015 stating that 9.5 million tons of plastic garbage were produced annually.
At Kangujam’s shop, where plastic is the only acceptable currency, she wants to help eliminate single-use plastic waste in India.
The young activist, who dreams of becoming a space scientist, has been going around schools in New Delhi with her solar-powered shopping cart and plans on implementing the initiative in other Indian cities. She is calling on people to bring in their single-use plastic waste, such as straws and plastic bags, to trade with a school stationery item, rice or a plant sapling.
“Plastic pollution acts as a catalyst to the global climate crisis,” Kangujam said.
“By reducing plastic consumption at home, we can make a difference to the environment.”
Through the project, she is also questioning “our planet’s unknown future and our environmental depletion,” as she expressed a longing for the day when there are more bicycles on the roads instead of motor vehicles.
“Every child in the world deserves to have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and a clean planet to live on,” she said. “These are our basic rights.”