Disappearing Tuvalu: Can Metaverse Save It?

    Published on:

    Virtual cities and destinations were created in the metaverse, starting with locations such as Second Life and Decentraland. But the South Pacific nation of Tuvalu has taken a unique approach to reimagining itself as a digital twin.

    Other cities and countries are doing the same. While Seoul and Caribbean Barbados use the Metaverse to provide administrative and consular services, Tuvalu’s rationale is unique.

    For Tuvalu, with a population of just 12,000, its metaverse project is one of existential survival. This is because the small South Pacific archipelago is one of the countries most threatened by climate change. Up to 40% of the capital’s districts are submerged at high tide.

    The nine islands and low-lying atolls that make up Tuvalu have a maximum elevation of only 4 meters above sea level. A slight rise in sea level would submerge a significant portion of Tuvalu, submerging farmlands and villages.

    first digital nation

    One of Tuvalu’s responses to this threat has been digitized. At the United Nations COP27 conference in Egypt last November, the country’s foreign minister unveiled a digital replica of him on one of the islands that make up Egypt.

    “As our land fades, we have no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation,” he said at the conference.

    An idea to prevent all physical traces of Tuvalu from disappearing under the rising sea. The nation will move to the cloud at the same time and be digitized in parallel.

    It will also be interactive. People can visit Tuvalu in the Metaverse and experience it through augmented and virtual reality.

    “When our land disappears, we will have no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation.”

    Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe recently told public broadcaster ABC that the entire country plans to go online.

    “In the future, if we imagine Tuvaluans scattered all over the world, governments will continue to function, coordinating themselves and people, resources, the tuna industry, our domain name,” Kofe told ABC. .

    The Tuvalu experience is unlike virtual real estate created on metaverse platforms such as Decentraland.

    In Decentraland, land originally sold for US$20 per parcel, but has now risen to around US$3,500.

    In 2021, Decentraland’s 116 parcels of digital land were sold for a record €2.49 million worth of cryptocurrency. In total, Decentraland will record sales of US$571 million in 2021, and that figure is expected to surpass US$1 billion in 2022.

    retention of sovereignty

    However, Tuvalu’s projects focus more on national survival than on property value. The idea is to ensure that a digitized Tuvalu will retain its sovereignty and continue to exist even as the entire country sinks into the water.

    “That means there are still citizens who can vote, there may be elected leaders and there may be parliamentary cabinets,” Coffe said.

    Also at issue is the issue of Tuvalu’s sovereignty. The government hopes Tuvalu will remain recognized by the international community even if the country is completely submerged. They want respect for maritime boundaries and, perhaps most importantly, they want respect for rights to resources.

    So far, seven governments have agreed to continue to approve digital-only Tuvalu, but this has yet to be challenged and tested through international law channels.

    Foreign Minister Kofe acknowledges that the Metaverse is not an “easy alternative”. It is motivated by an attempt to draw attention to the plight of the country and question what would happen if it disappeared completely under the waves.

    Tuvalu’s digital projects raise important issues beyond climate change. Can a nation exist without a land? If the physical version is gone, can sovereignty and the connection to the home continue to exist digitally? How are important economic rights respected?

    Digital twins provide the first, albeit imperfect, solutions to some of these challenges.

    Lachlan Colquhoun is CDOTrends Australia and New Zealand correspondent and NextGenConnectivity editor. He remains fascinated by how businesses can reinvent themselves, solve existing problems and transform entire business models through digital can contact him [email protected].

    Image credit: iStockphoto/Dmitry Malov


    Leave a Reply

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here