Why you need to care about the Arctic, and care now!
On the evening of the 24th of January 2016 Johanne Jerijærvi of Kirkenes, Norway presented the remarkable 2015 she had had. At the age of only 13 she, and 3 other children from Norway, had skied to the North Pole for Norwegian news channel NRK. The purpose of the expedition was to highlight to other children throughout Norway how climate change is affecting one of the last truly wild landscapes of the world and the results of the ‘Nansen Kids Expedition’ have been profound.
On stage in front of several hundred Arctic Frontiers delegates Johanne talked about her experience skiing to the North Pole, why it was an important experience for her and what has happened since they made the trip; namely being personally invited to present at COP21 in Paris by Ban Ki Moon.
The message which she and the other Nansen Kids had delivered was simple: these are the reasons why you need to care about the Arctic, and care now. So “don’t just drink coffee and talk; do something!”
The message was bold but most importantly it was not coming from the mouth of a politician or industry leader – this was a 13 year old girl worried about what we, every person on this planet, is doing to our world and it’s environment; and quite rightly worried.
The Arctic is a region which is having a genuine effect on communities throughout the world yet it is one which is not receiving the attention it needs. It is this worry which has interested us in the Arctic and how we can contribute to it in a positive manner working with communities throughout the region to provide a sustainable future; and it was this reason why we were at this year’s Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway.
Many of you might not consider Scotland to be a country of the Arctic but Scottish communities have many similar issues to communities in the High North. Through the work we have been doing in Scotland with communities from Dumfries to the North Isles and everywhere else in between, we believe a similar ethos can be applied to communities within the Arctic region. It was these projects, including our recently launched Possible Scotland campaign, which led to our inclusion as one of 23 ‘Emerging Leaders’ within the Arctic region who undertook the five day programme along the north coast of Norway before presenting as a group at the main Arctic Frontiers conference.
Joining us were scientists, policy advisors, community workers, anthropologists and researchers all with the aim of discussing the risks, investigating the opportunities and providing a sustainable future vision for the Arctic region as a collective voice of the youth of the Arctic (all of us were between the ages of 25 and 35).
On our trip we were joined by specialists, politicians and industry leaders who presented, discussed and debated the ideas we were putting forward with us. We began in the city of Bodø at 67° north, a city which has been nominated alongside cities such as Tokyo as one of the UN’s Smark Cities, before departing for Svolvær on the Lofoten Islands and ending our trip in Tromsø, just shy of 70° north; the highest city in the world.
We were introduced to Arctic search and rescue, the changing patterns of fishing in the region and how climate change is severely affecting this industry, renewable technologies and fossil fuel production within the Arctic and mapping the Arctic from space, while 12 of the ‘Emerging Leaders’ also presented their own work as snapshots.
All of these insights, snapshots and experiences contributed to what we eventually created and presented on the same plenary session as the Chief Scientist for NASA amongst other distinguished speakers. This was reflective of the conference as a whole which had a strong focus on the youth of the Arctic and how the youth can shape and contribute positively to this region.
Our project, which was contributed to by people from Norway, Canada, USA, Finland, Russia, Singapore, Austria, China and Scotland, focussed on how the Arctic is on the frontlines of climate change and a region which the world is looking at both for its rich resources and as a climate change “laboratory”, but also how this attention can be harnessed to turn these risks into opportunities, design resilient communities in the future, built by and for the communities themselves and create thriving communities that are healthy parts of the ecosystems they live in.
We believe the Arctic is an opportunity to be ahead of the curve, to take advantage of new opportunities and industries in the arctic in a responsible and sustainable manner. We want to see smart cities and intelligently-designed homes be the rule, not the exception.
We see an opportunity here to foster collaboration between clean energy companies and communities in the Arctic, where energy production can be local and sustainable. We want to see a certification of sustainable arctic products – where “future arctic” means local food products, arts and crafts that support strong communities and responsible interaction with the environment; products that foster local knowledge and sustainability, and bring income to isolated communities.
We have the opportunity to be ahead of the curve – the need for adaptation and change is the golden opportunity to embrace everything we’ve learned through research and as a global community in order to help the communities in Arctic be the best they can be.
We want an Arctic of thriving communities, where communities innovate and share knowledge; communities that generate solutions for themselves and each other’s challenges. Local agencies can create new types of economic activities or revitalize the old. We can share knowledge through meaningful education in the local context and spur innovation and knowledge sharing through community collaboration, connecting research with industry, old with young, in a way that helps all stakeholders to make smart, future-oriented decisions.
There is an opportunity to integrate the Arctic’s diversity into its decision-making. We envision a decision making process that incorporates cross-generational voices, gender equity, is culturally relevant, and is continuous.
A challenge to this process can be lack of understanding of communities, cultures, lifestyles and lived experiences in the Arctic by decision makers, it can also be a lack of understanding of decision-making processes by Arctic residents. However can we create exchanges between rural/urban and Arctic/non-Arctic leaders so that they can have real, human experiences – physically present within a culture, a way of life, an economy, an Arctic, is a way to help increase this diversity when decisions are made.
We envision the creation of a shared “we” in the Arctic, where all stakeholders feel adequately reflected, where many “Arctics” come together on certain issues, understand each other, and forge stronger coalitions in local, regional, and global decision making.
This is our #futurearctic, one which is sustainable, addresses issues facing the world as a whole and create a legacy which generations to come will be proud of. These are the reasons why you need to care about the Arctic, and care now!
You might not think that Scotland is an immediate part of the Arctic, however it is affected by it, and we are contributing to it now, and will be in the future. What happens in the world now affects Scotland, affects the Arctic, which affects Scotland and affects the world. We need to see change, and see change now. We are part of the problem, but we are also part of the solution.
It is only if we work collectively as a ‘community of the world’ will we be able to achieve a future we are all proud of, and that future begins in the Arctic.