A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF OMAC
Online Model Arctic Council (OMAC) is a simulation of the real-world Arctic Council . Established in 1996, the Arctic Council is devoted to advancing international cooperation and good governance across the Arctic. Around its table sit not only the Arctic States—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the USA—but also Arctic Indigenous peoples organisations representing the Aleut, Athabaskans, Gwitch’in, Inuit, Saami and the many peoples of the Russian North.
Held entirely online and open to pupils anywhere in the world, OMAC is one of the few diplomatic simulations of its kind in the world ever held at the secondary-school level. Before becoming an educator, Polar Aspect Managing Principal Dr Anthony Speca lived and worked in the Arctic as a senior policy official with the Government of Nunavut, one of Canada’s Arctic territories. Since 2016 he has launched a number of Polar Aspect MAC conferences, both in-person and online, in order to share his enthusiasm for the Arctic with youth, and in the hope of inspiring them to learn more about this unique region and its peoples.
Whilst pupils with experience of Model United Nations may find some aspects of the conference familiar, OMAC offers an exciting new format of model diplomacy. The Arctic Council is unusual not only in promoting the active involvement of Indigenous peoples alongside states, but also in making all decisions by consensus rather than majority vote. The Arctic Council is also well-known for collegiality and consensus-building even during times of tension between participants elsewhere in the world—valuable skills for life after school.
PARTICIPATING IN OMAC
Participation in OMAC is open to pupils from any secondary school around the world. Participants are invited to form delegations of up to three pupils each to play the role of representatives from one of the eight Arctic States or six Arctic Indigenous peoples organisations. Pupils need not study at the same school in order to form a delegation together, but they might find it easier to coordinate their preparations if so. As with most other model diplomacy conferences, NORMAC delegates are usually aged 15 to 18, though some may be younger.
At the OMAC conference, delegates will grapple with the challenge of reaching consensus on some of the most pressing challenges facing the Arctic, and by extension the world as a whole. Whether an experienced ‘MUN-er’ or a newcomer to model diplomacy, all prospective delegates can take advantage of Polar Aspect’s online OMAC Delegate Training as part of their preparations for OMAC, should a training round be scheduled.
However, no special training, or even prior experience of the Arctic or of model diplomacy, is necessary to participate in OMAC. Delegates will be provided with a Delegate Guide and Research Guide in good time to help them prepare. The OMAC Secretariat will also be on hand before and during the conference to answer any questions. Scheduled ‘reflection sessions’ will help delegates pause to consider the progress of the conference, and to transform their experiences into learning.
Since OMAC operates by the rule of consensus, delegates will find their interpersonal and communication skills stretched and improved. Unlike at other model diplomacy conferences, OMAC delegates do not debate pre-prepared resolutions. Rather, they rise to the challenge of negotiating mutually agreeable ‘declarations’ in real time. To assist with the process of consensus building, each delegation is requested to provide a brief discussion paper a week or two ahead of the conference, which will be circulated to other delegations.
OMAC conferences take place at regular intervals during the academic year. Dates of upcoming conferences are available at registration. OMAC conferences take place over a single weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, lasting no more than four hours on each day. Exact times during the day vary from conference to conference, in order to accommodate pupils in different time zones. Prospective delegates should register for a conference that best fits their time preferences.
No matter the timings, OMAC conferences generally keep to the following schedule:
- Pre-conference – Videos introducing the Arctic, Arctic Council and OMAC, as well as a pre-recorded keynote speech from an Arctic expert
- Day 1 – Diplomatic negotiation sessions and an optional Arctic-themed online social event
- Day 2 – Continued diplomatic negotiations followed by final speeches and a decision on the ‘declaration’, plus guided reflection on the conference in discussion with Polar Aspect Managing Principal Dr Anthony Speca or other Arctic experts
A full timetable will be provided to delegates closer to the date of the conference.
ISSUES FOR DISCUSSION
At OMAC, delegates consider issues that are very much of concern to Arctic States and Arctic indigenous peoples today. Issues are formally set in advance of each OMAC conference to allow good time for preparatory research. Examples of issues considered at Polar Aspect MAC conferences include:
- Passing Indigenous knowledge from elders to youth
- Arctic permafrost thaw
- Plastic pollution in the Arctic marine environment
- Sustainable energy in Arctic communities
- Safety in Arctic marine tourism
- The growth of Arctic shipping
- Meteorological cooperation in the Arctic
- Seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Arctic offshore
- Broadband connectivity in Arctic communities
- Arctic wetlands and climate change
- Educational opportunity for Arctic children
- Marine protected areas in the Arctic
- Suicide in Arctic communities
- The European Union as an Arctic Council Observer
Research briefs will be provided to delegates to help them prepare to discuss the issues set for their OMAC conference.
No prior experience of the Arctic or of model diplomacy is necessary to participate in OMAC, nor is it necessary to have participated in OMAC Delegate Training. Delegates are provided with a Delegate Guide and a Research Guide in good time ahead of their OMAC conference, in order to help them prepare.
Like at the real Arctic Council, every OMAC conference ends with a Ministerial declaration summarising the agreements reached. Past ‘OMAC Declarations’ are available below. Please note that these declarations represent the collective agreement of secondary-school student delegates to OMAC, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Polar Aspect.
Each OMAC conference features a keynote speech from an Arctic expert who serves as that conference’s Honorary Chair. Honorary Chairs may also observe conference proceedings, and offer advice to delegates during guided reflection sessions. Past Honorary Chairs have included:
- Prof Ketil Lenert Hansen (Regional Knowledge Centre for Children and Youth, University of Tromsø)
- Prof Heather Nicol (School for the Study of Canada and School of the Environment, Trent University)
- Mr Tony Penikett (former Premier, Yukon Territory)
Polar Aspect has been fortunate to benefit from support for the OMAC conference from the following organisations.