December 5, 2018

by Kristine O’Rielly – Cleantech and Innovation Consultant,The Delphi Group

Just Another Conference?

ACA-kristineoriellyA few weeks ago, I attended the 2018 Arctic Circle Assembly (ACA) in Reykjavik, Iceland. The Arctic Circle Assembly is the largest international gathering on the Arctic, attended by more than 2,000 participants from 60 countries. The conference brings together governments, corporations, universities, environmental associations, and indigenous communities that have a vested interest in the Global North.

As one of the most rapidly changing landscapes on earth, the Arctic is set to become a hotbed of development – from natural resource extraction to shipping. The conference covers a wide-range of topics related to Arctic development and its potential impact on environmental and social wellbeing in the region.

Each time I attend a large-scale international conference, I try to remain optimistic about the outcomes that can realistically be achieved over the course of a few days. While in Iceland – and on the eve of the annual UN climate change conference (which is now underway) – I had to ask myself: if time is of the essence for issues like climate change mitigation and adaptation, are assemblies and conferences the most effective way to develop solutions? I remained skeptical heading to Reykjavik, but there were surprises in store.

An Unlikely Partnership

networking-acaThe Arctic (specifically, Iceland) and Small Island States in the Pacific (Kiribati, Cook Islands and Fiji) have more in common than you’d think. Both are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as well as to issues associated with ocean health. Both have small populations relative to the rest of the world. Both regions are often underrepresented on the global stage.

As a direct result of the connections made between these two regions at the 2017 ACA, the Arctic-Pacific Partnership for 21st Century Sustainable Fisheries was formed. Iceland is known to have one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world, based on a circular economy model. The Icelandic 100% Fish model focuses on utilizing as much fish biomass as possible to prevent unnecessary waste. They have created a number of alternative uses for fish biomass, including cosmetics and medical products, fish leather, omega-3 oils, and more. This has helped Iceland fisheries expand well beyond traditional markets and sustainability practices.

Ahead of the 2018 assembly, ministers from the Small Island States participated in a tour of various facilities and processing plants across Iceland. They are very interested in the circular economy model and want to see it brought to the Pacific region with the help of Iceland and their fisheries experts.

Ensuring our fisheries remain sustainable is a global issue. We need to find solutions together, sometimes with the most unlikely partners. Finding and connecting with potential partners can often be challenging, especially for resource-strapped organizations and regions. That’s where large-scale events can often come into play.

The Power of Conversation and Connections

International conferences can serve as a starting point for deeper conversations and allow for compassion, understanding, engagement…and action. Many individuals look at global conferences as irrelevant in today’s digital world. However, those who question the process fail to remember that face-to-face, human-to-human connections can be tremendously powerful, positive and influential. Global conferences allow us to make meaningful connections with people whose story or perspective we might never hear otherwise.

In a world where global diplomacy faces threats on every front, we need as many opportunities to hear from marginalized voices and voices that are different to ours. It’s a big world out there. Moving the needle on environmental action requires compromise and an inherent understanding of what other countries and regions of the world are experiencing. We cannot begin to bridge that knowledge gap without dialogue, and international conferences provide a platform for that dialogue.

Kristine O’Rielly is the Cleantech and Innovation Consultant at The Delphi Group. For more information about the 2018 Arctic Circle Assembly or The Delphi Group, please contact Kristine directly at

We hope to see you at GLOBE Capital (February 26-28, 2018) in Toronto, where leaders in finance, infrastructure and cleantech meet to capitalize on opportunities in the clean economy.