In Fall 2019, in the midst of completing my MSc dissertation, I was researching opportunities for youth to become engaged in Arctic issues, and stumbled upon Arctic Frontier’s call for Emerging Leaders with special interest in the Arctic. Their website announced, “Call for new candidates: Arctic Frontiers Emerging Leaders is now open for new candidates from business, public sector and academia!” I read how, as an early career and mentoring programme in the High North of Norway for young scientists and professionals, Arctic Frontiers was seeking aspiring Arctic leaders under the age of 35 to participate in the programme. Those wanting to learn more about Arctic security, Arctic economy and Arctic environment were encouraged to apply.
The programme promised to bring together 30 selected candidates from across both Arctic and Non-Arctic states to “participate in a blend of technical, social and cultural events accompanied by mentors from business, politics and academia” (Arcticfrontiers.com). Starting in the city of High North Norwegian city of Bodø, then continuing onboard the coastal cruise M/S Hurtigruten to Lofoten and ending in Tromsø, “the gateway to the Arctic”, where Emerging Leaders would join hundreds of other international delegates from myriad sectors at the Arctic Frontiers Power of Knowledge Conference, the programme I read about was something I couldn’t have conjured up in my wildest dreams. I submitted my application and took a deep breath…
I learned a few months later that I had been selected to participate. I am an Arctic Frontiers Emerging Leader! The dream soon became a reality…
Day No. One: Here we are in the Arctic
“Step outside of your comfort zone,” encourages Ole Linderfjeld, one of the mentors we are being introduced to at the opening session of Arctic Frontiers Emerging Leaders 2020. Sitting in a hotel ballroom in Bodø, a seaside town just north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, there is a nervous energy amongst our group. Ole promises these new faces will quickly become dear friends over the course of our programme. I feel shy yet optimistic as I listen to the individual introductions of each participant; It is the first time that I have been surrounded by so many young people who share a similar passion for Arctic issues. Topics that I have been studying in isolation are coming to life before me. As mentor Brita Staal introduces our first task, an analysis of the SDGs as they relate to Arctic governance, I realise how prepared I am for this work. Contrary to Ole’s advice, I feel with a striking confidence that I have stepped into my comfort zone. This is where I am meant to be.
Day No. Two: Arctic Security, SAR, and Satellite Communication
Following our first meal together as a cohort, we are quick to bed. Everyone is well aware that the next day will be nothing short of action-packed. We begin our morning at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, where Norway’s Senior Advisor of the Armed Forces, Johnny Didriksen, introduces us to Arctic Security. Speaking about the High North from a security perspective, Didriksen highlights how commercial activities typically fall into three categories: Oil and Gas, Tourism, and Research. “Research,” he explains, “Is the number one way for Non-Arctic states to stake claim on the Arctic.” To this end, we discuss the role of scientific diplomacy on power dynamics within the Arctic. Brief mention is made of Norway’s dual-position to Russia: as both a member of NATO and a friendly neighbour.
Bent Ove Jamtli, Director of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre of Northern Norway or Hovedredningssentralen i Nord-Norge, is both host and speaker today. Speaking to the role of national SAR services in times of global maritime distress and disasters, I am left sitting on the edge of my seat. This is key topic which I included in my MSc dissertation, which explored the implications of increased maritime traffic on the Arctic blue economy. The question of who is responsible for the provision of resources and responses to maritime disasters that occur in international waters requires careful consideration.
To round out our morning lectures, mentor Pal Brekke, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Space Centre, takes the floor. He explains how satellite imagery can be used not only to guide ships through ice, but can also monitor oil spills. It is a science that remains imperfect – ISS cannot capture ship traffic data from above Denmark, and as a consequence, current satellite communications systems in the north are less reliable.
We board the coastal steamer, Hurtigruten, after a working lunch, and begin our journey up through the Lofoten archipelago. We cheers our hot cocoas on the upper deck upon departure, and spend the next few hours relaxing and getting to know each other a bit more. Soon, however, the skies turn grey and the waves begin bouncing the steamer at a pace that leaves the majority of the group a little green!
At long last, we disembark the ship and make our way to Lofotr, where a Viking dining experience awaits! The cast of characters, clad in Viking garb and clearly embracing their ancient counterparts, ensure we are well fed and well hydrated. The evening passes by in a frenzy of laughter, traditional music, and good fun had by all. We’re all ready for a good night’s sleep as we arrive in Svolvaer, and quickly settle into our cabins for the next few nights.
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