Due to the existential threat of rising sea levels, the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu is uploading its entire culture and a replica of its islands as a digital twin in the metaverse.
Simon Kofe, the minister of justice, communication and foreign affairs of Tuvalu, made the announcement during a digital address to leaders at COP27. Kofe spoke in an area that used to be land and is now under water.
“As our lands disappear, we have no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation,” Kofe said. “Our land, our ocean, our culture is the most precious asset to our people. And to keep them safe from harm no matter what happens in the physical world, we will move them to the cloud.”
Kofe said that rising temperatures will soon make many islands uninhabitable as the ocean overtakes them.
Specifically, three aspects of Tuvalu will be recreated in the metaverse:
- The territory of the islands that will be available to be interacted with.
- The culture of the people including their shared language, norms and customs.
- Sovereignty over virtual land in the event there is a loss of terrestrial land, which the government of Tuvalu has sovereignty.
“The tragedy of this outcome cannot be overstated…Tuvalu could be the first country in the world to exist solely in cyberspace — but if global warming continues unchecked, it won't be the last,” Kofe said. “Only considered global effort can ensure that Tuvalu does not move permanently online and disappear forever from the physical plane.”
Why it matters
There are two things to consider here.
First, Tuvalu being one of the first country’s dealing with the impacts of climate change is on the verge of a travesty. That cannot be understated. Tuvalu is wrestling with the idea of how to manage a fully functional sovereign state that is online in the metaverse while its citizens are forced to live in other locations. That is a wild and crazy notion to even consider.
Second, that the metaverse won’t exclusively be a place where you spend hours of every day doing nothing but gaming or shopping while picking what avatar represents you best. Now, that isn’t what many are developing metaverse tools and applications for, but much of what is coming is based on this premise.
Preserving culture in the cloud or in the metaverse could become something that becomes the norm, but right now it is an anomaly. However, this may not be the end-all, be-all answer that preserves Tuvalu or other cultures. The internet and the metaverse has its own carbon footprint and energy pull, which if things get bad enough might become issues of their own.
Still, it is a fascinating move by the small country amid a travesty.