Emerging Leaders Reception (Alayna Ningeongan second from the left)
Emerging Leaders Reception (Alayna Ningeongan second from the left)
© Alexandru Mitu/Arctic Frontiers

Envisioning 2041: Young Leaders Simulate the Future of the Arctic

19 June 2024
In January 2024, 31 young professionals were tasked with the impossible: to develop a multitude of Arctic policies in less than three hours amidst rapidly evolving circumstances. While stressful in the moment, the implications of their decisions and actions were confined to the policy simulation they were participating in. The exercise was part of the Emerging Leaders program organized by Arctic Frontiers and the young professional who represented the 2024 cohort. We spoke to a participant, a co-organizer and a mentor of the simulation to find out more about one future scenario for the Arctic and the benefit of stepping out of one’s comfort zone to imagine what the region could look like in 2041.
The Emerging Leaders Cohort 2024
© Alexandru Mitu / Arctic Frontiers

What do you imagine the Arctic to look like in 2041? For a group of young professionals, one possible future scenario emerged like this: “In 2041, the loss of sea ice begins a new scramble for territory and resources among the Arctic powers. The Arctic Silk Road is seeing growth. Arctic mining holds the key to the EU critical raw materials strategy. These are protected areas, and they want to dig them all up.”

The young professionals found themselves cast as members of a fictional European Arctic Regional Task Force on Arctic Security, an initiative set to be collectively organized by the Nordic countries to advise the Arctic Council and the European Economic Area. Their task was to find a balance between protection, exploitation, and security – all within just 2.5 hours.

“I can tell you that the air was thick,” said Jose Miguel Roncero Martin, international relations officer at the European Commission. “People's eyes towards the end were red.” According to Jose Miguel, the challenging scenario and impossible timeframe created very realistic physical conditions. He joined the Arctic policy simulation in Tromsø, Norway, in January 2024 as an observer and mentor, sharing his decade-long experience at the science-policy interface with the 31 young professionals selected for the 2024 Emerging Leaders’ program arranged by Arctic Frontiers.

Emerging Leaders is an early-career and mentoring program for young professionals aged 18 to 35. Since 2012, the program brings together young leaders from academia, businesses, the public sector and NGOs to learn about the Arctic during a journey through Northern Norway. Along the way, the participants meet with local representatives of different sectors and engage in discussions of current visions, trends and challenges in the Arctic.

This year’s theme was Coexistence in the Arctic and one of the participants was Alayna Ningeongan. Alayna is an Inuk coming from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. She was in the middle of her one-year internship at the Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat when the opportunity arose to become part of the 2024 Emerging Leaders’ cohort and to join the policy simulation.

In 2041, the loss of sea ice begins a new scramble for territory and resources among the Arctic powers. The Arctic Silk Road is seeing growth. Arctic mining holds the key to the EU critical raw materials strategy. These are protected areas, and they want to dig them all up. Simulation scenario

“I was representing the Icelandic Sustainable Alliance in the simulation,” Alayna shares. “As an Indigenous person it was interesting to step out of the role I normally would play around the table. In a way this was nice because I didn’t have to stress about representing myself or my community. At the same time, I had to get on board with the alliance’s positions and I think my experience representing a minority helped me to be more tuned to seeing the various perspectives in the room.”

Alayna and her fellow emerging leaders received constant updates and emails from their fictional bosses as the scenario was unfolding in front of them, directing them in different directions and encouraging them to act in certain ways.

I think my experience representing a minority helped me to be more tuned to seeing the various perspectives in the room. Alayna Ningeongan

“The simulation takes real time events and processes, exaggerates them slightly, and condenses them down to minutes and hours,” explains Mario Acquarone, Deputy Secretary at the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) Secretariat – one of the organizers of the event. “The important thing is that a scenario needs to be close enough for participants to care, but far enough removed from current circumstances to not immediately touch their feelings and allow them to detach themselves and the actual lives they are living.”

The policy simulation has been co-developed by SYKE, the Finnish Environmental Research Institute, based on an approach developed by the Centre for Systems Solutions. The CASCADES project, which builds on climate change impact simulations to develop scenarios, provided information on how impacts of climate change are transmitted across borders. The simulation paints the picture of an alternative reality and allows participants to think outside the box – what if this was how the world would look like in 2041?

The important thing is that a scenario needs to be close enough for participants to care, but far enough removed from current circumstances to not immediately touch their feelings. Mario Acquarone

“In the scenario, the Council’s Indigenous Permanent Participants had gained a stronger decision-making power, and the European Union has become part of the Council. It was a projection of a possible future and I think this type of exercise encourages us to envision the future we would like to see. Even if it might be difficult to get there, the simulation allows people to reflect on what would be needed to achieve change,” says Jose Miguel.

The simulation is meant as a safe space, a role play that allows participants to try out a different persona, to reflect on the worldviews or perceptions shaping another person’s stance and to negotiate compromises in order to find agreement on policies. Participants were pressed out of their comfort zone, nudged to step into someone else’s role and position and challenged to ad hoc react to a constantly evolving scenario – which came to include a sudden oil spill incident and emerging issues along transpolar trading routes.

“While participants are urged to slip into a different role, it’s still important to acknowledge that one carries one’s personal luggage of experiences, education, and morals – and sometimes these don’t fit perfectly with the role one is tasked to play,” says Mario.

It was a projection of a possible future and I think this type of exercise encourages us to envision the future we would like to see. Jose Miguel Roncero Martin

Thus, while the simulation is a game, for participants who live in the Arctic and firsthand observe changes and feel the impacts of climate change and globalization, elements of the simulation can hit close to home – as Alayna experienced. “It’s different when you are based in a capital and you’re making decisions on behalf of your country, you’re somehow disconnected from what that policy actually means on the ground,” Alayna shares. “If a shipping route impacts the migration routes of animals your community depends on, it becomes a personal matter. If hunters need to travel further to harvest, more accidents will happen, especially in the face of climate change.”

To engage in this hands-on policy making exercise was an eye-opening learning experience for her, as Alayna says, and it triggered an interest in policy making processes. “Although I feel like I’ve learned a lot, there are still critical skills I would like to acquire. I’d like to keep learning how to respond and behave in those kinds of circumstances. In order to prevent debates from becoming too emotional or heated, I believe it is crucial to acquire such abilities in advance. Especially when discussing with people who haven’t experienced what it is like living in a remote Arctic community.”

It’s different when you are based in a capital and you’re making decisions on behalf of your country, you’re somehow disconnected from what that policy actually means on the ground. Alayna Ningeongan

The Emerging Leaders’ policy simulation serves as a platform for young professionals to engage deeply with the complexities of Arctic governance. It provides an opportunity to step into the shoes of different actors, fostering a broader understanding of the multifaceted issues facing the Arctic region. Jose Miguel hopes that this exercise will inspire participants to think big and build better systems and societies, compensating for the shortcomings of previous leaders. “I would encourage the Emerging Leaders to focus on what we can control and those are the societies and the systems we build – these are on us,” he says in closing.

I would encourage the Emerging Leaders to focus on what we can control and that are the societies and the systems we build – these are on us. Jose Miguel Roncero Martin

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