UNLEASH – An Experience of Greenland Like No Other


The importance of the Arctic, youth innovation and how you can make your voice heard.

Ingrid is an Arctic Angel and climate justice activist from Norway. Growing up in the Scandinavian forest and backcountry, she has always had a deep connection to nature and an understanding of the fragility of Arctic environments. Most recently she joined the first regional UNLEASH Innovation Lab in Nuuk, Greenland. She reflects on her experience in Greenland and the importance of the Arctic.

I woke up around 5 am in a hostel in Copenhagen with five strangers in my shared room, without the knowledge that over the next week these five strangers would become close friends for life. Alongside 200 young people from all over the Arctic and Nordic regions, I huddled from the hostel to busses marked UNLEASH. The ride to the airport was quiet, filled with a nervous and excited silence – not unlike the one on the way back. After a long flight to Kangerlussuaq, shuttle flights transported all the participants in cohorts of 30 to Greenland’s capital of Nuuk.

Nuuk. A small city – well actually the largest city and capital of Greenland – with a population of just over 17,600 people. Nuuk greeted us with fresh winds, cold air and the most beautiful and gentle sun I had almost forgotten existed.

I was born in Kirkenes, a small Norwegian Arctic town, raised in the mountains and backcountry of Norway and spent most of my childhood outdoors. Despite this, I sometimes forget the magical power the Arctic holds. Safe to say returning to the Arctic was more than just a cool travel experience or a way to connect with people in my field – it was a transformational experience bringing to light why I advocate for a 10-year Moratorium on the Central Arctic Ocean Ice.

UNLEASH Greenland was UNLEASH’s first regional Innovation Lab, bringing together 200 young people from the Arctic and Nordic regions only. As opposed to their global Labs that mobilise 1000 young talents, UNLEASH Greenland was focused on bringing innovative solutions to the SDGs in the Arctic and Nordics specifically. We were put in groups of four to six, asked to identify an issue related to our SDG track and then brainstorm and prototype a solution to be implemented in Greenland and beyond.

The UNLEASH programme was packed with incredible keynote speakers, Greenlandic culture and spaces to connect with talent and experts. The highlight for me was listening to Siila Watt-Cloutier speak to her experience as former International Chair of the ICC (Inuit Circumpolar Council) and an Inuit activist. She spoke about the right to be cold (also the name of her memoir), and how the Arctic is more than just a cold ecosystem, it’s what underpins Inuit, Sami and other Indigenous cultures’ existence. A warming Arctic has consequences for us all but it erases generations of history, a way of life and entire communities of Indigenous and First Nations communities.

Siila’s words in the UNLEASH Opening Ceremony set the tone for the rest of the week and I imagine her words will still be with me for a long time to come. Siila was not the only Indigenous activist and inspirational leader we got the honour of listening to. Midweek we were invited to listen to politician, Inuk Greenlander and former ICC president Aqqaluk Lynge. He spoke about what makes the Arctic and Indigenous communities here different from the rest of the world. I could listen to him for hours as he dissects colonisation, knowledge transfer and Indigenous wisdom about the Arctic.

We were also invited to listen to a youth panel on climate change with Aka Niviâna, an Inuk writer, poet and climate activist from Upernavik, north Greenland. She read a beautiful poem at the start of the session and shared her perspective on climate change with us. She is one of the artists behind the short film Rise: From one Island to Another (2018), which received the Climate Outreach’s People’s Choice Award the subsequent year.

On the last day, we were again invited to listen to inspirational keynote speakers and our fellow peers speak about the importance of innovation for the SDGs.

In 2015, UN member states started a challenging 15-year journey toward a sustainable future by formulating 17 sustainable development goals. The SDGs are the largest global partnership and development plan for the planet ever made! Transformation is essential. To achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need new and innovative solutions that ignite change by challenging traditional approaches and ways of thinking, including in climate action.

The experience I had in Greenland transcends any and all expectations I had of both the place, the programme of our week and the people I met. Although I’m only a week removed from my trip to Greenland I can safely say it’s made a lasting impression of me, and ignited my passion for the Ice Crisis.

Greenland, an Arctic nation covered in over 82% ice is facing some of the worst consequences of global warming in the world. Last week an unusually late heatwave caused expensive melting across the Greenland ice sheet – something not seen in previous years. Major sea-level rise caused by melting of the Greenland ice cap is now inevitable – a minimum of 27cm of sea-level rise is expected regardless of what climate action is taken.

I feel grateful to have experienced at least part of Greenland and Greenlandic culture – one I hope will not be lost. Standing together for the protection of the Arctic is vital to stop more irreversible climate catastrophe.

Being an Arctic Angel has allowed me to explore the Arctic from a different point of view – one of interconnectedness, interdependency and global consequence. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. That’s why Global Choices is inviting you to use your voice to join the Arctic Ice Force – a global collective of change makers ready to bring the Arctic to the top of the global climate agenda. Let’s join forces to protect the Arctic.

I feel a renewed sense of responsibility and passion for saving the Arctic, a place I called my home but had almost forgotten. I’m reminded of Siila’s reflections on how the Arctic is the cooling system of the world – the air conditioner if you’d like. Without the Arctic, not only do we stand a smaller chance against climate catastrophe but Indigenous communities will lose not just their homes but their lands, histories and communities.

Engaging with and supporting organisations focused on protecting the Arctic is an easy way of taking action on the Ice Crisis – find out more about how you can support Global Choices here.

UNLEASH is an organisation that mobilize youth around the world to co-create a sustainable future. UNLEASH enables young people to create solutions, become leaders, and drive networks to help reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Find out more and get involved at https://unleash.org/.

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