SOI Alumnus Gerrit Wesselink (Arctic 2013) is the International Partnerships Director for Youth Arctic Coalition, an independent global forum for youth to influence the future of the Arctic.
On October 12-14, Gerrit attended the inaugural Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavík, Iceland – a wonderful opportunity to provide youth engagement in the global decision-making process that considers the many challenges and opportunities faced by the Arctic and the best course forward.
This was the first of what will be an annual Arctic Circle meeting, which brings together a range of global leaders across sectors to engage in open dialogue with the purpose of addressing environmental, economic and social challenges that threaten the Arctic and its people. Results from these discussions help extend the work of the Arctic Council.
Below are Gerrit’s thoughts following his experience at the Arctic Circle…
The Arctic Council serves as a forum for governments, and certain Arctic organizations to discuss northern issues in a more formal fashion. President Òlafur Grìmsson of Iceland felt there needed to be a non-formal place where anyone can discuss how they feel about the Arctic, and their place in the solution.
This past October, important names in the circumpolar world, people like Aleqa Hammond (Prime Minister of Greenland), Patrick Borbey (Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials), Hillary Clinton (Ex- United States Secretary of State) and little old me travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland to take part in the first Arctic Circle conference! In fact, not only were representatives from the eight Arctic countries present, but there were more than1,200 people from more than 40 countries in attendance.
As the International Partnerships Director at the Youth Arctic Coalition, my job was simple! Try as hard as I could to talk to the people who could connect me with young people in their respective countries. The idea of youth working in the Arctic was slow to catch on at the conference. The discussions focused on shipping routes, climate change statistics, and the place of countries like Singapore in the Arctic region.
Now, don’t get me wrong, these are all very interesting subjects, and not once did I find myself bored, but it wasn’t easy giving a young person’s perspective on the issues! By the time the second half of the first day came around, I went out into some of the networking events and started sharing a message of young people finding their place in the ever-changing north! People loved it! I talked to universities that want to connect the Youth Arctic Coalition to their students, youth groups, and even certain young people in particular. It was great! Plus, with a little help from SOI educator, James Raffan, I even had the rare opportunity to speak with the Canadian Ambassador to Iceland, Stewart Wheeler.
The conference went great, the discussions were very important, and I am very glad that everyone who attended the conference was given the chance to share their opinions and speak to their place in the Arctic.
Although I was only in the country for a very short period of time, I had the chance to explore the city of Reykjavik. It is a little bit bigger than the towns we visited on the Students On Ice Arctic 2013 Expedition, yet the towns of Nunavut, Greenland, and Iceland have one thing in common – they will never leave you. You gain a certain feeling of belonging in the Arctic, and, for me at least, it becomes a part of who you are.
Like the Arctic Circle itself envelops the 66th degree, the Arctic Circle Conference envelops the entire world, bringing us to where we need to be to make a difference in the world around us. I thank the team at the Arctic Circle Conference, and President Grìmsson, for bringing us together, for giving us a chance to make the Arctic region a better place for the entire world; and I look forward to next year’s conference!!!!