I was around seven years old when it all began.
Interview With Deborah Thankam Ciju, Climate Activist

This interview was conducted by Selva Ozelli


Tell us your name and the school you are attending.

My name is Deborah Thankam Ciju and I'm currently studying at GEMS UNITED INDIAN SCHOOL, Abu Dhabi.

How did you become interested in the environment?

I was around seven years old when it all began. Every time I traveled to Kerala, India, I saw the stunning landscape was littered with waste. That's when my enthusiasm for protecting the environment began to blossom.

What activities do you engage in to protect the environment?

I make it a point as a young activist to volunteer for as many events as I can. I make presentations for young people in the hopes of motivating them, I participate in afforestation sites and my local beach cleanups, I participate in desert cleanups and seminars, and I even attend webinars and seminars to learn more about the environment and what we can do to conserve it. I participate in the school's eco-club, where I can interact and contribute to the generation of ideas that benefit both our community and the wider globe.

Which countries benefit from your environmental activities?

India and the United Arab Emirates would profit the most from my physical environmental efforts (cleanups, site replanting, etc.). Since the seminars I attend are international, I think that by motivating individuals all over the world with my remarks, I'm encouraging people everywhere.

How did you get involved with the Global Resilience Partnership and the UNFCCC?

It's difficult to change the world when you're just 13 years old, but that's what I wanted to do. I thus learned about YOUNGO, the UNFCCC's youth constituency. With the grace of God, my application was accepted! I've been receiving letters from various activists ever since about ways to improve the world, and that's how I found out about the Global Resilience Partnership. I would be able to tell others my story and demonstrate to them that it is never too late or too young to try to save the environment by participating in this program!

On Nov 30th, the day the COP28 conference began in Dubai, young activists stormed the New York Metropolitan Opera and interrupted the performance by demanding an end to the use of fossil fuels. What are your thoughts on the activities of extinction rebellion?

At a time like this, when the earth is so vulnerable. Utilizing other materials and fossil fuels will only increase our risk. I acknowledge that the depletion of fossil fuels may result in a significant shift in lifestyle, but at that point, we must choose to utilize them sparingly. Alternatively, look for a more sustainable fossil fuel substitute. I acknowledge that the protest was unexpected and that it interfered with a classy event, but we have been attempting to draw attention to ourselves for a very long time. The youth have made numerous attempts, but they never seem to be successful, in showing people the truth and waking them up. So if the only way for people to realize their wrongdoings is to storm an Opera hall and demand the end of fossil fuels, so be it.

Is the youth in Dubai and Kerala involved in the climate conversation – joining a burgeoning global cohort of youth passionately committed to fostering change for their peers? What is your involvement?

The bilateral relationship between India and the United Arab Emirates, which has always been cordial and amicable, has developed into a major economic and commercial alliance. This implies that close ties exist between the UAE and India, even when it comes to discussing climate change. The Indian PM attended the COP28 Summit, as did other young Indian speakers. Keralan and Dubai Young are actively participating in the climate discourse.

Unfortunately, children and youth face disproportionate risks and impacts from this as the generation who will inherit a planet with tougher conditions in which to live without being responsible for contributing to the problem. Artist Fatma Kadir, with her work in Future of Power Art Show on exhibit at the Resilience Hub at COP28 draws attention to young climate change advocates who “at very early ages are becoming plaintiffs in climate litigation around the globe–including within the ASEAN region. This region is home to some of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. What are your thoughts on climate litigation?

We must take action right away! The world will not wait for us to act. It will gradually crumble, leaving the world in ruins. We, the younger generation, have a responsibility to clean up the mess left by our ancestors' neglect of our earth. Youth climate lawsuits will become much more common if we do not collectively take action now, and this should be discouraged. Children and youth are disproportionately at risk from it since they are the generation that will inherit a planet with harsher living conditions without having contributed to the problem. Therefore, let's work together, older and younger generations alike, to put an end to these accusations against young people because they have done nothing wrong. Let's act together to have a better future and planet together.

Anything else you might want to add.

In addition to being the victims of environmental and climate problems, young people are also significant change agents who help achieve the SDGs, equality, and respect for human rights, as well as a more sustainable planet. The limitless creativity, vitality, and contributions of youngsters everywhere are essential to humanity. It is the youth that can only stop this. Let's join hands together to save the earth!

How can people reach you?

People can reach me through my email, [email protected]!


Deborah's COP28 Resilience Story Showcase!

Picture of Deborah with Dr. Jane Goodal for the Roots & Shoots program


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