Just over a week ago, 28 pupils from seven secondary schools in Italy, the Netherlands, Saudia Arabia, Spain and the United Kingdom gathered at Colegio Ayalde in Bilbao, Spain, for the inaugural Model Arctic Council Bilbao (MAC Bilbao). Over the course of three days, from 25th to 28th January, they played the roles of diplomats attending a cycle of Arctic Council meetings, and they discussed and debated major challenges facing the Arctic today.
MAC Bilbao is a sister conference to the UK-based Norwich Model Arctic Council (NORMAC), which is now in its third year. I developed NORMAC in order to raise awareness and understanding of the Arctic amongst youth, and I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to expand this experiential learning initiative to another country. I’m grateful to Señora Nicola Dignum for her invitation to Colegio Ayalde, as well as to her pupils for their efficient help chairing the conference.
MAC Bilbao 2018 took place alongside this year’s Model United Nations Bilbao (MUN Bilbao), Señora Dignum’s own very successful model-diplomacy conference, which attracts hundreds of delegates from secondary schools around Europe and beyond. MAC Bilbao delegates were able to take part in wider MUN Bilbao ceremonies and social events, whilst at the same time enjoying the characteristic intimacy of a smaller Model Arctic Council conference.
At MAC Bilbao 2018, delegates simulated meetings of two Arctic Council Working Groups—AMAP and SDWG—as well as a Senior Arctic Officials’ Meeting and a Ministerial. After many hours of diplomatic meetings, delegates were happily able to develop consensus approaches to the issues of Arctic wetlands and climate change, and educational opportunity for Arctic children.
As I’ve said before, what makes MAC Bilbao and NORMAC special amongst model-diplomacy conferences is what makes the Arctic Council special amongst international organisations—permanent seats for Arctic indigenous peoples around the table, and a commitment to consensus-based decision-making. In practical terms, this means that MAC Bilbao and NORMAC delegates learn not only about the Arctic, but also about the indigenous peoples who call it home. And they learn not only how to take a position and defend it, but also how to negotiate in good faith and find the bridging solution.
I’m pleased to say that Señora Dignum has invited me back to Colegio Ayalde next year to run a second MAC Bilbao. If your school would like to participate, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. And watch this space for news about NORMAC 2018, which is scheduled to take place in just a few weeks’ time.