Last week, 24 pupils from 12 secondary schools gathered at Colegio Ayalde in Bilbao, Spain, for the second annual Model Arctic Council Bilbao (MAC Bilbao). They came from schools in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, and I was especially pleased to see one pupil attending MAC Bilbao for a third consecutive year! As at MAC Bilbao 2019, 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.
The conference began with an opening ceremony featuring an inspiring keynote address by Prof Antonio Quesada, who leads Spain’s observer delegation to the Arctic Council. Over the following three days, pupils simulated meetings of two Arctic Council Working Groups, as well as a Senior Arctic Officials’ (SAO) Meeting and a Ministerial. Delegates to the PAME Working Group discussed the issue of plastic pollution in the Arctic marine environment, and delegates to the SDWG Working Group discussed the issue of sustainable energy in Arctic communities. Both of these important and difficult issues are currently on the agenda of the real Arctic Council. And in keeping with the Arctic Council’s rule of consensus, delegates had to rise to the challenge of developing a jointly agreed approach to solving them.
Negotiations proved difficult, with delegates requiring much of the SAO and Ministerial meetings to add mutually agreeable content to the drafts emerging from the Working Groups. Nevertheless, delegates persisted in their efforts, and they reached consensus on both issues in the end. My third-time veteran MAC Bilbao delegate, determined to avoid last year’s collapse in consensus, conducted such highly energetic and successful ‘shuttle diplomacy’ between delegations that she deeply impressed an expert MUN advisor and observer affiliated with the THIMUN Foundation and MUN Impact!
Like last year’s conference, MAC Bilbao 2019 took place alongside Model United Nations Bilbao (MUN Bilbao), Colegio Ayalde’s 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 always, I’m grateful to MUN Bilbao Director Señora Nicola Dignum for her invitation to Colegio Ayalde, as well as to her pupils for their efficient help chairing the conference.
I developed MAC Bilbao, as well as its sister-conferences NORMAC and WYCOMAC, in order to raise awareness and understanding of the Arctic amongst youth, and to help them learn how to collaborate and build consensus on difficult issues. Feedback from delegates and teachers strongly indicate that these conferences have been very successful in doing so. And as I’ve said before, what makes MAC Bilbao, NORMAC and WYCOMAC 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 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 fourth annual MAC Bilbao will take place at Colegio Ayalde from 27th to 31st January 2021. If your school would like to participate, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.