Exploring the Arctic’s similarities with Scotland

Students from around Scotland came to Oban to play their part in the first Scotland Model Arctic Council, a three-day simulation of the Arctic Council, the top international forum for co-operation, environmental protection, and sustainable development in the Arctic.

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Students from around Scotland came to Dunbeg to play their part in a three-day simulation of the Arctic Council, the top international forum for protecting the Arctic.

Hosted by the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) from March 11 – 13, the first Scotland Model Arctic Council (ScotMAC) was an educational initiative of Polar Aspect and the Scottish-Arctic Network (ScAN) of universities.

Students from all seven of these universities took up roles as diplomats from the eight member states and six Indigenous Peoples’ organisations that sit around the Arctic Council table.

They worked together to reach consensus on significant challenges facing the Arctic today—the growth of Arctic shipping, and the transmission of Indigenous Knowledge from elders to youth.

With the real Arctic Council having paused its activities following the Russian invasion, there was a strong ‘No to war’ message coming from the simulated equivalent.

SCOTMAC director Dr Anthony Speca condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine, telling the student delegates: ‘As young people concerned to promote peace and dialogue, you have the chance to demonstrate the power of collaboration, cooperation and consensus.’

The assembly heard from the Scottish Government’s Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, Neil Gray MSP, who joined via video link.

Mr Gray remarked on the similarities between Scotland and the Arctic, and the expertise Scotland can contribute. He said: ‘Scotland faces many demographic challenges – 98 per cent of our landmass is classified as rural but it contains only 17% of our population.

‘We have 96 inhabited islands and the population density of the Highlands and Islands is amongst the lowest in Europe, similar to some parts of the Arctic.

‘Beyond the challenges posed by that rurality – from fuel poverty to loneliness – retaining young people in those areas is difficult. And many parts of the Arctic are experiencing the same issues.

‘This is a clear example of why working with our Arctic neighbours can bring mutual benefits and help us develop joint solutions.’

Mr Gray, who is in charge of the Scottish Government’s approach to supporting Ukrainian refugees, added: ‘I have no hesitation in supporting the [Arctic Council] joint statement condemning Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

‘Scotland stands for democracy, human rights and the rule of law at home and abroad.’

The former European Union Ambassador to the Arctic, Marie-Anne Coninsx, said Scotland was a fitting place for a simulated Arctic Council, adding: ‘You have a first minister who goes to Arctic conferences and I recall a phrase she used that Scotland is closer to the Arctic than it is to London.’

Ms Coninsx emphasised the importance of including young people in diplomacy, and said that science and innovation was the biggest hope for ensuring a sustainable Arctic region.

She also warned of the catastrophic effects of climate change, from reindeer in Lapland starving because rain is regularly freezing on top of snow, preventing them from grazing, to the melting of permafrost (a layer of permanently frozen soil) undermining around 70 per cent of Arctic infrastructure.

She said: ‘In a nutshell, the Arctic is not about polar bears on ice; it is a region where four million people live. There are different ‘Arctics’. The Canadian Arctic is totally different to the European Arctic.”

Dr Speca stressed the Arctic was a homeland for its many peoples, rather than an empty wilderness to cordon off or an unclaimed resource frontier to exploit.

SCOTMAC host Prof Finlo Cottier, an Arctic researcher at SAMS, said: ‘As Scotland continues to develop its relationship with Arctic nations, it is essential that we understand the challenges, priorities and common values within the Arctic.

‘ScotMAC has given young people the opportunity to explore key issues in the Arctic today, to negotiate and reach consensus.’

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Caption: Students from around Scotland came to Oban to play their part in the first Scotland Model Arctic Council, a three-day simulation of the Arctic Council, the top international forum for co-operation, environmental protection, and sustainable development in the Arctic.