Thought Provoking

Big, Bold Ideas: Fighting for Climate Justice, One Cat Picture at a Time

Plan International Canada CEO Lindsay Glassco with Activist Sophia Mathur CEO CHATS

Big, Bold Ideas: Fighting for Climate Justice with Activist Sophia Mathur

Words by Linda Nguyen
Reading time: 6 minutes


Climate activist Sophia Mathur sits down to share big, bold ideas with Plan International Canada CEO Lindsay Glassco about saving the planet, getting adults to listen and following in the footsteps of Greta Thunberg.

Sophia Mathur, 16, is a youth activist from Sudbury, Ontario, fighting to end climate change.

Sophia Mathur’s first act of activism was a picture of a cat.

drawing of cat

She was at her first climate protest on Parliament Hill with her mother, the head of Citizens Climate Lobby Canada, a grassroots climate-action group.

At the time, Mathur was obsessed with drawing pictures of cute and cuddly felines. And when she found herself face to face with a Canadian senator, she saw an opportunity.

She gave him a picture of a cat she had drawn with the caption: “A carbon tax is a purr-fect solution.”

Mathur was 7.

Since then, she has sued the Ontario government over its climate targets, rubbed shoulders with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and attended climate-change protests all around the world.


I grew up with climate change being a dinner-table discussion. My mom would often go on lobbying trips, and my dad and I would go to a park or museum. … I decided to tag along [on this trip], and I realized, wait, she’s trying to convince politicians to save my future and save the animals that I love.”

– Sophia Mathur, 16-year-old climate activist from Sudbury, Ontario

Mathur says these experiences have opened her eyes to the power of activism and how critical it is for everyone to get involved.

She continued to hand out her cat drawings to decision makers, and years later, when she returned to Ottawa, she saw many of them posted in Parliament Hill offices.

Seeking Climate Justice in the Courts

In 2019, Sophia Mathur became the head plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Ontario government over greenhouse gas emissions.

She, along with six other youth under the age of 12, argued that by passing the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act in 2018, the government was allowing more greenhouse gases to be emitted, leading to more climate change–related fires, floods and poor air quality, in turn leading to more illness and death.

The lawsuit argued that the act contravened Ontarians’ right to life, liberty and security.

Previously, ex-Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne passed the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-Carbon Economy Act, which promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% below 1990 levels by 2020, 37% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Premier Doug Ford revised those targets in 2018 to a 30% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.

In January, the lawsuit was dismissed by the Ontario courts.

Mathur says that even though they didn’t win, the experience was a win because it raised awareness about the government’s inaction.

Q&A with Youth Climate Activist Sophia Mathur

This is the latest interview in our series CEO Chats: Big, Bold Ideas for a Brighter Tomorrow, where Plan International Canada CEO Lindsay Glassco speaks with some of the brightest young people from around the world striving to make the future a safer, sustainable and equal place for all.

Lindsay Glassco with Activist Sophia Mathur

Lindsay Glassco

Q: Why is climate change the most important issue for Canadians to care about today?

Sophia Mathur

A: It’s a very pressing issue, and we know that it exists now around the world, but it will also affect our future. It’s a really important issue for youth, because we’ve been raised on the idea that solutions are being made and that there’s progress being done, that this problem is solved… [But that’s not the case] and youth and Canadians are seeing this, and they’re deciding to … finally step up for our future as a country and a generation.

Making a Difference

Q: Do you think, then, that all the actions of citizens can make a difference?

A: I think that people have a lot of power and that governments are in place to work for us. Politicians are there to work and make our lives better. Voters and citizens have a major influence … and if they do take action, politicians will be forced to listen and forced to take action, too.


Q: So, what do you think are the ramifications of inaction, and how will that impact youth specifically?

A: The climate crisis is an issue we’ve been hearing about for a long time. So, it’s starting to become more of the background of people’s minds, even though, experts say, it’s getting more severe and it’s impacting people around the world. In the end, future generations will see what these governments, their grandparents, what they did and what they didn’t do, and they will judge us for not doing anything and completely putting this crisis … in the back of our minds.

Why Youth Have the Right to Speak Up

Q: What does activism mean to you?

A: Activism is getting people to take action. And it’s doing that action. It’s turning your anger and fear about an issue into action, finding solutions and working with people – through art, through lobbying, through protests and in any way.

Be an Activist Your Way

Q: What are small actions youth can take if they want to begin their activism journey? What’s your advice to them?

A: Yeah, I think that it’s really important to focus on your passions and what you’re good at. If you’re not someone who likes public speaking, you’re not required to go give a big speech about climate change.

And there are many organizations out there that focus on other aspects. They focus on lobbying or making social media campaigns.

Your passion and anger for inaction on the climate crisis is how you can get engaged, because sometimes people will come up to me and say, “I really want to do what you’re doing, but I can’t give speeches; I can’t do interviews,” and I’m like, "You’re not required to."

Staying Positive

Q: I’m sure you have frustrations when change isn’t occurring as fast as we want it to. But you’re still out there continuously and passionately pushing for something you believe in. So, where does that optimism come from?

A: I feel like activism is a cure for that.

I’ve been able to see wins and small progresses that we’ve made, like my city declaring a climate emergency. Or even when we hold events, little kids will come up to me and say how much fun they had and how they want to continue to get involved with environmental work. So, I think through my activism, it just gives me more hope.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Meeting Climate Justice Rock Star Greta Thunberg

Sophia Mathur was 11 when she became the first student in Canada to join Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement.

By going on strike from school on Fridays to protest insufficient climate targets, she inspired hundreds of other students in her hometown in Sudbury to join the movement.

The idea behind it is that there is no future due to climate change, so why bother going to school?

Two youth stand side by side smiling.
Sophia (left) with Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg at an event in 2019.
A girl smiles next to a man  .
Sophia (right) meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2019.

“When Greta was doing her striking, I automatically wanted to get involved, because it’s like, ‘Oh, finally, someone like me can get more youth engaged and get my friends engaged,’” she says.

Since she began her activism work, Mathur has met Thunberg, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. She has also attended climate-change conferences around the world, including the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.


Five Fun Facts About Sophia Mathur

1 She was the first youth outside of Europe to join Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement.

2 She successfully advocated for her hometown of Sudbury, Ontario, to declare a climate- change emergency.

3 One of her first acts of activism was to ask restaurants to not automatically include plastic cutlery with takeout meals.

4 She grew up in a family of scientists and strongly believes in the importance of using data to support her activism.

5 She wants to be a lawyer one day.

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