Last week, 26 pupils from 11 secondary schools gathered at Colegio Ayalde in Bilbao, Spain, for the second annual Model Arctic Council Bilbao (MAC Bilbao). They came from schools in Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, the UK and the USA, and they also represented China and Turkey as home countries. As at MAC Bilbao 2018, pupils attending this year’s conference played the roles of diplomats attending a cycle of Arctic Council meetings, trying to reach consensus on major challenges facing the Arctic today.
Over the course of three days, pupils simulated meetings of two Arctic Council Working Groups, as well as a Senior Arctic Officials’ Meeting and a Ministerial. Delegates to the PAME Working Group discussed the issue of seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Arctic offshore, and delegates to the SDWG Working Group discussed the issue of broadband connectivity in Arctic communities. In keeping with the Arctic Council’s rule of consensus, all delegates grappled with the challenge of developing a jointly agreed approach to these issues.
In the end, after many hours of diplomatic meetings, consensus proved elusive—but delegates agreed they had learned much in the attempt. As one delegate remarked after the conference, ‘Consensus is not easy, but the real reward is in the collaboration’.
MAC Bilbao is a sister conference to the UK-based Norwich Model Arctic Council (NORMAC), which is now in its fourth year. I developed NORMAC in order to raise awareness and understanding of the Arctic amongst youth, and I’m delighted that this experiential learning initiative has now taken root in another country. Once again, 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.
Like last year’s conference, MAC Bilbao 2019 took place alongside 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.
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.
The third annual MAC Bilbao will take place at Colegio Ayalde from 30th January to 2nd February 2020. If your school would like to participate, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.