An island nation will upload to the metaverse as climate change threatens its existence

An island nation will upload to the metaverse as climate change threatens its existence

The South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu has announced that it will build a digital version of itself in the metaverse to preserve its cultural heritage as it faces an existential threat from climate change. “As our land disappears, we have no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation,” Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe said during a speech at the climate summit. COP27 in a video broadcast that showed him standing on a digital replica of an islet that could soon be submerged by rising sea levels.

“Our land, our ocean, our culture are our people’s most precious assets – and to protect them from harm no matter what happens in the physical world, we will move them to the cloud,” Kofe said. As the threat of submergence from rapid sea level rise becomes all too real for many island nations, Tuvalu’s decision speaks volumes about woefully inadequate climate action that is forcing countries to seek alternative solutions to preserve not only their nation’s heritage, but its very existence.

Tuvalu is a chain of nine islands with a population of 12,000 located between Australia and Hawaii. Recognized as one of the “most climate-vulnerable states on earth”, scientists say Tuvalu could become uninhabitable within the next 50 to 100 years. However, locals believe that this moment could come sooner than expected.

Tuvalu then hopes to preserve its territory and its cultural heritage in the cloud. “Piece by piece, we will preserve our country, bring comfort to our people, and remind our children and grandchildren of what our home once was,” Kofe said.

The Metaverse, with its use of new technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), creates an immersive world where user avatars can move between multiple virtual worlds. Some envision the metaverse becoming an inextricable part of life in the future. In theory, this may seem like a good option when it comes to preserving knowledge systems and cultural heritage that is being systematically erased in the physical world. The preservation of cultural assets in digital form, such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), has already begun. New technologies can also pave the way for the immortalization of rapidly disappearing Indigenous languages ​​and knowledge through Indigenous metaverse projects, which could facilitate experiential education.

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However, virtual reality technology requires large amounts of energy to operate. It is estimated that training a single AI model will emit over 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent. An article in The Conversation noted that while the language around new technologies may present it as consistent with hopes for a green future, terms such as “cloud computing”, “virtual reality” and “metaverse” are “laden with ‘tech solutionism’ and ‘greenwashing.’ Tuvalu’s proposal to create a metaverse nation in response to climate change could then fuel the rise in carbon emissions that is exacerbating the crisis today. However, what Kofe seems to point out , it is the lack of global action on this front that leaves island nations little choice when it comes to preserving their lands, culture and national identity.

As Kofe said, this transition to the metaverse is “also about sovereignty.” This decision then aims to allow Tuvalu to continue to function as a state, “by providing an online presence which can replace our physical presence”, by securing the statehood and maritime borders of Tuvalu in the virtual world. , otherwise physical. The nation can potentially continue to function as one, despite the dispersal of its population and the disappearance of its lands.

Tuvalu is not the first country to move to the metaverse. South Korea was an early investor and is building a metaverse platform that will allow citizens to virtually access public services and government programs. Meanwhile, Barbados is said to be the first country to consider launching a virtual embassy in the metaverse. But what does it mean for an entire nation to exist in the metaverse?

If the future of nations and governance is to involve the metaverse, questions remain as to how current geopolitical relationships and legal frameworks might translate into the virtual world. “The metaverse is a blank canvas for nations to use to advance their geopolitical agenda,” Abishur Prakash, co-founder of the Center for Innovating the Future, told TRT World.

“When it comes to cyberspace, the player who owns the infrastructure decides what rules to impose on the ecosystem,” noted Michael B. Greenwald, former US Treasury attaché to Qatar and Kuwait. Some reports suggest that the metaverse could put less developed countries on a level playing field and that the virtual world could foster greater diplomacy and foreign relations. However, much of this could depend on who rules the metaverse.

Prakash said that “there is no single metaverse that the whole world will use”. Instead, different countries will have their own metaverse platforms, potentially dividing the world along “new fault lines”.

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A report by the Analysis and Research Team of the Council of the European Union predicted a future struggle between three regulatory approaches: a regulatory approach by states, a decentralized and open web pushed by tech activists, and a profit-driven model supported by the technology sector. which would consolidate power in the hands of technology companies while freeing the virtual world from the rules that apply to the physical world.

“In general, the absence of borders and rules in the metaverse is likely to pose an additional challenge to the existing notion of territorial sovereignty,” the document notes. The announced absence of borders could potentially redefine citizenship.

Issues that are becoming increasingly common with the rise of digital technologies today – such as data privacy, misinformation, cyberattacks – may well be exacerbated if we start living primarily in virtual realities. It will take greater regulation that goes beyond the rules of the physical world. What that may look like remains unclear. Living entirely online can also lead to what some call cybersickness – nausea induced by fast graphics in VR technology – which could make it extremely difficult for an entire nation to function online.

For Tuvalu however, the shift to the metaverse is in preparation for the “worst case scenario” of climate change. It shows how inadequate global action to reduce fossil fuel emissions – and the deadlock over the loss and damage fund that could help poor countries cope with the impacts of the climate crisis – threaten the survival of countries. . “Only a concerted global effort can ensure that Tuvalu does not become permanently connected and disappear from the physical plane forever,” Kofe said, adding that without a global commitment to shared well-being, other nations may soon find themselves joining Tuvalu in the metaverse.

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