Cool French accent: Who visited Svalbard to ‘prepare’ for climate summit – and who might actually talk about trip in Paris

They came. They saw. Most have said very little about about it since.

Plenty of people, including top world leaders, made the pilgrimage to Svalbard as part of their “preparations” for the UN climate summit in Paris beginning next Monday. But beyond those whose work focuses on Arctic climate change, any lessons learned haven’t been brought up much beyond the obligatory press conferences immediate afterward.

The reasons vary from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visiting so many climate-affected areas he’s seen far more drastic human suffering underscoring the urgency of the issue to top conservative U.S. leaders who’ve been working to sabotage any meaningful agreement following their junket.

But Svalbard will get its moment or two on stage during the two-week summit and, if nothing else, even those reluctant to reach a meaningful deal will have a hard time being rude to a group of adventurous kids.

Four teenagers who spent about a month this spring participating in science field work in Svalbard and skiing to the North Pole will present their experiences next Saturday in a two-hour side event titled “Seeing is Believing – Believing Demands Action. A Message From The Arctic.”

The youths will spend the first 30 minutes of the event in a discussion with Ki-moon, French Foreign Minister and summit host  Laurent Fabius, Norwegian Polar Institute Director Jan-Gunnar Winther, and other top officials. Harald Steen, a Norwegian Polar Institute research who led year’s six-month Norwegian Youth Sea Ice Cruise expedition aboard the Lance research vessel, will then give a 10-minute presentation about the project the teen


U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with Erika Gjelsvik, 13, and Johannes Breivik, 13, aboard the Lance research vessel. The youths were part of a student group that skied to the North Pole and participated in a sea ice study aboard the ship this year as part an effort to raise awareness about climate change impacts. Photo by Rick Bajornas / United Nations.

s participated in.

“It is possible they will think we have little competence, but when we have a lot with us and are well prepared we are worth listening to,” said Elias Damli, 14, who in his spare time invented a machine invented a machine that creates hydrogen, in an interview with NRK this week. “The sooner we start working on climate change, the better we will be.”

Predictions for a meaningful summit agreement range from increasingly likely (with many citing the recent terrorist attacks in Paris as an incentive) to hopeless (either for political reasons or because it’s too late to take action to halt catastrophic impacts). Among those who visited Svalbard as part of their summit preparations and how the trip might have an impact are:

Johannes Breivik, Johanne Jerijærvi, Erika Gjelsvik and Elias Damli
The visit: Multiple activities by the teens, all 13 at the time, including research aboard the Lance and a ski expedition to the North Pole in March and April of 2015.
Likely impact: Among the noticeable “civilian” attendees, but symbolic. Getting stage time with the host and other main players at the summit means their images and comments will be in plenty of news reports. But it’s still one day in a marathon gathering where attention will mostly focus on whether anything is being accomplished. Still, it will be far from their last exposure as they will be the focal point of the NRK documentary series “Oppdrag Nansen” early in 2016.

Harald Steen and Jan-Gunnar Winther, Norwegian Polar Institute
The visit: Many trips by both to Svalbard, with Steen leading this year’s Lance expedition.
Likely impact: A piece of the main puzzle – but it’s a very large puzzle. Their contributions to the database of knowledge should rival that of other Arctic climate change scientists at the summit, but much of that knowledge is already known by attendees who will be involving in what will primarily be a political and economic debate.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
The visit: Standard VIP tour/discussions, plus trip to Lance project in July of 2015. Also visited in 2009.
Likely impact: Small. His top-tier prominence means his observations about changes since his 2009 visit will be heard (and the photo-op with the four teens will be a legit “feel good” moment. But his constant focus on climate change means he’ll spend most of the time discussing far more harrowing experiences in parts of the world where entire regions, islands and cultures face being wiped off the face of the Earth by impacts already occurring.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
The visit: Standard VIP tour/discussion, May of 2014.
Likely impact: A “blend of tact, emotion and a bit of bullying.” That’s the assessment of a Politico article noting she backs steep emissions cuts and, during her visit, bluntly told Norway’s climate minister “look, I am sorry. I need to warn you. In my dealing with the press, I am going to speak about this. And I will call for the closing of coal in Norway.” Consider that a microcosm of what the “daughter of a revolutionary” will be doing during the summit. She will also be part of the presentation with the “Oppdrag Nansen” teens.

U.S. Sen. John McCain (and other members of Congress)
The visit: Standard VIP tour/discussions, mid-August of 2015 (others came in the months before and after).
Likely impact: None, other than a few thousand wasted taxpayer dollars and a lot of our local experts’ time. Whatever lip-service the former Republican presidential candidate and others in his party offered during and after their visit was just that. They’re already working on legislation that would sabotage President Obama’s ability to enact of the terms of any deal reached at the summit. They’ll undoubtably cite a November Fox News poll of more than 1,000 registered voters that found only three percent say climate change is the most important issue facing the country. The main reason they seem to have visited the Norwegian Arctic was to see if they could learn anything that would improve their ability to put military troops and oil rigs in the far north.