Tuvalu has announced its plans to create a digital version of itself in the metaverse in an effort to preserve their land and culture as rising sea levels threaten to swallow the island nation.
At the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt, Tuvalu's foreign affairs minister, Simon Kofe, said, "Our land, our ocean, our culture are the most precious assets of our people and to keep them safe from harm, no matter what happens in the physical world, we will move them to the cloud."
As he virtually addressed world leaders, the camera zoomed out to reveal Kofe standing "in" a digital replica of Teafualiku, an islet on the northern part of Funafuti, in the metaverse. "Islets like this one won't survive rapid temperature increases, rising sea levels, and drought," he said, "so we'll re-create them virtually. Piece by piece, we'll preserve our country, provide solace to our people, and remind our children and our grandchildren what our home once was."
See the striking reveal here:
Tuvalu, a volcanic archipelago made up of nine islands situated halfway between Hawaii and Australia, has a total land area of about 10 square miles and sits, on average, at an elevation of 6.6 feet. For reference, the borough of Manhattan is roughly 22 square miles. Though the islands have actually increased in size over the years, sea levels around Tuvalu have been rising at approximately twice the global average.
At high tide, up to 40% of the country's capital, Funafuti, is underwater. Some experts predict the island nation — home to nearly 12,000 people — could be uninhabitable within the next 50 to 100 years, though locals fear it will be sooner.
The first step to digitizing the island nation is virtually replicating Teafualiku in the metaverse. The islet is the first part of the country expected to be completely submerged due to rising sea levels. "Only concerted global effort can ensure that Tuvalu does not move permanently online and disappear forever from the physical plane," Kofe told delegates, imploring other nations to take meaningful action against climate change.
And this isn't the first time Kofe has made an impassioned plea to save Tuvalu from the "worst-case scenario." At last year's climate summit (COP26), he virtually addressed world leaders while standing in knee-deep seawater to stress Tuvalu's vulnerability to climate change.
In fact, in 1989, the UN designated Tuvalu as one of numerous island groups most likely to be submerged in the 21st century due to global warming. Not to mention, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), of which Tuvalu is a member, introduced climate change loss and damage — now a key area of climate policy — to world leaders in the early 1990s.
AOSIS, an intergovernmental organization comprised of 39 small island and low-lying coastal development countries, formed in 1990 ahead of the Second World Climate Conference to address climate change.