Sophia Mathur has led a climate lawsuit aimed at the Ontario government, she’s been handpicked to train with Al Gore, marched alongside Greta Thunberg, held more than 100 climate strikes, and she hasn’t even got her driver's licence yet.
Mathur is just 16 years old and she boasts an activism resume that would put any adult in awe. Equally impressive is the fact that she takes it all in stride balancing a normal teen social and extracurricular calendar, all while living out her life's purpose to galvanize youth to fight for the planet.
“Not only youth, but everyone who is living in this generation now, where we are talking about climate change, should be involved in this fight, to step up for future generations,” Mathur said in an interview with The Weather Network.
Sophia Mathur with Greta Thunberg at the Amnesty International awards in 2019. (Submitted)
Teen sues Ontario government
Mathur is probably most well known for leading the Ecojustice lawsuit ‘Mathur et al v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario’ along with six other young people against the province. The group legally challenged the Ontario government’s decision to weaken future climate targets. They argued that the decision violated youth and future generations’ rights to life.
Twice the Ford government tried to get the case thrown out and twice it was denied reaching a full court hearing before ultimately being dismissed by a superior court judge in 2023. It was a process that began when Mathur was 12 years old and went on for four years, making it farther than any other similar climate case, setting legal precedent in Canada. Sophia and the other youth plan to appeal the decision but still see the power in the message that was sent already.
“I've been able to meet a lot of the Ontarians that have been interested in this case, and even people that don't even live in Ontario, that are thinking of doing things like this in other countries. And I think that was a big success,” said Mathur. “Any other cases around the world can say, ‘Hey, look what Ontario's done’ … and they can follow this and also get success from where they are.”
Sophia Mathur at a climate protest in 2015. (Submitted)
Advocacy is a family affair
Mathur’s passion for the climate started long before the recognition from Thunberg or the high-profile Canadian legal case she headed. As an environmental lobbyist, Sophia’s mother was on a lifelong mission to convince governments across the world to commit to ecological change. Mathur spent her childhood accompanying her mother to knock on doors at Parliament Hill and Capitol Hill, and was intrinsically interested in the horrors her mother worked to avoid.
Mathur was just seven years old when she decided to start lobbying in her own right. She’d heard enough of the climate information from the adults around her and was inspired to take matters into her own hands. Mathur would draw pictures while she listened to the chatter and leave her art — which often involves cats — behind as a poignant reminder to the politicians she met. It turned out, having a child in the room advocating for her own future was an incredible revelation.
“A lot of those politicians have grandchildren, or children of their own. And having me in those rooms is almost like looking at the future generations and the people at the exact generation that is going to be affected by the decisions they are going to make,” Mathur said.
Sophia Mathur's first climate strike in Sudbury, Ont. (Submitted)
Canada’s answer to Greta
When she was 11, Mathur became Canada’s first climate striker, one of the first to take on the Fridays for Future baton outside of Europe. The act of skipping school on Fridays to protest for environmental awareness was made famous by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Since 2018, Mathur has held more than 100 climate strikes in her hometown of Sudbury, Ont. Some of her protests garnered thousands of supporters and people from all political stripes. Thunberg and the act of climate strikes was a huge inspiration for the Canadian teen.
“I really wanted to get involved. I feel like at that point, I didn't feel like there was something exactly I could do that was engaging with other youth,” Mathur said. “Greta and her way of speaking [was], you know, almost making people feel guilty, which some people didn't like. But there needs to be people saying, ‘You know what, you're not doing anything.’ And she really made politicians not be able to make excuses because you can't say that to a kid that's begging you to take action.”
When she was 12, Mathur’s accomplishments were recognized on a global stage as she joined her idol at an event as an equal. She was invited to be part of a panel along with Thunberg and help present the well-known activist with an Amnesty International award in 2019.
An end to the fight?
Today, along with balancing trips to international climate change conferences, getting her message into media coverage across the country, and organizing large scale environmental events, 16-year-old Mathur is also active in dance, theatre, and sports programs and balancing free time with her friends.
In fact, living her life to the fullest is the driving force behind the relentless push to get youth into the climate change arena. Others joining alongside her would very literally mean the world for her and her future.
Thumbnail image: Sophia Mathur in 2021. (Submitted)