The voices of emerging leaders in the Arctic

31 March 2020

This article originally appeared in The Circle: Youth in Action. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

Today's young people will be disproportionately affected by what we do to our planet. But what issues matter most to youth in the Arctic, and how can we move forward together?

In 2017 at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík, Iceland, two groups of young people met by chance: the Icelandic Youth Environmentalist Association and the Alaska-based Arctic Youth Ambassadors. Hearing stories from other regions of the Arctic was immensely informative for both groups, but it eventually led to a stark realization: we didn’t really know anything about the most pressing issues in each other’s homes, let alone those facing youth in other parts of the Arctic. We quickly recognized this missing information as a significant challenge to our ability to cooperate, and finding a solution became essential.

This was the beginning of the Arctic Youth Network (AYN), or the “Super Mega Plan” as it was initially called. Two years later, AYN is now a global network of youth working together to make changes in the Arctic through international cooperation and capacity building. Young people finally have a platform to join forces across the entire Arctic and take meaningful and coordinated action toward a better future.

That brings us to the stories in this edition of The Circle, which provides a number of enlightening insights into some of the key issues facing the Arctic. I and two other youth editors (Jukipa Kotierk and Martina Fjällberg, whose editorials follow this one) chose the topics to cover in this issue, and every article is an inspiring example of how youth voices should be central to local and global issues.

Young people are less bound by special interests versus older generations, so they can be critical players in creating transparent and inclusive cooperation across borders and cultures.

Their stories are the beginning of a much broader and deeper discussion that we must continue. It is my sincere belief that these youth and their stories will bring us closer to a shared vision for the Arctic.

I encourage you to approach the articles in this issue as a single Arctic-wide story depicting common themes in diverse circumstances. When you look at the articles collectively, you will start to see the similarities among challenges across the Arctic—and in fact, across the world. This broader vision can provide us with a better understanding of the global diversity of perspectives and challenges and can make us much more capable of addressing global topics such as climate change, conservation and cultural equality. Without such an approach, we will never be able to solve societies’ problems, because everything young people experience transfers into how society is governed, both currently and in the future. Like many, I have seen and experienced such consequences, and feel a strong moral obligation to do what I can to improve the situation.

I hope you’ll benefit from reading these stories, and I look forward to seeing young people cooperate with decision makers and become a meaningful part of the decision-making process.

PÉTUR HALLDÓRSSON, a guest editor for this issue, is from Reykjavík, Iceland, and works with the Icelandic Youth Environmentalist Association, the WWF Arctic Programme and the Arctic Youth Network. He is passionate about youth-led environmental advocacy and has a special interest in how climate change, conservation and cultural equality are interconnected.