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Too late for Tuvalu?

6 January, 2023

Tuvalu is a small island nation in the Pacific – palm trees, white sands, aqua blue seas, coral reefs and close-knit communities. But behind its beauty lies a dismal future: Tuvalu could disappear off the map before the end of the century.

Adverse impacts of climate change such as sea level rise and coastal erosion are swallowing up Tuvalu’s low-lying islands, creating an uncertain future for its people. Tuvalu’s foreign minister, Simon Kofe, delivered his COP26 speech knee-deep in seawater, offering a stark reminder of the reality of climate change, but has had to turn to alternative action as a last resort (or final plea).

In response to the existential threats posed by climate change, Tuvalu is set to create digital replicas of its islets in the metaverse. These digital replicas would serve as a “digital twin” of Tuvalu, allowing the nation to preserve its territory, culture, and sovereignty in a virtual space. This scenario, while technologically viable, is a desperate attempt to cope with a tragic situation in which Tuvalu’s rich culture and history are at risk of being lost to rising temperatures and sea levels.

Kofe’s unsettling proposal would keep Tuvalu’s culture and heritage safe in the digital space and ‘remind their children and grandchildren of what their home once was’. It is a way to draw attention and awareness to the impacts of climate change, but not a solution.

The reality is that thousands of Tuvaluans will be displaced as sea levels rise. The metaverse may be the only means by which the beauty, languages, norms and customs of Tuvalu can be remembered – especially sad for a nation that has done little to contribute to climate change but is one that is most vulnerable to its impacts.

By Bertie Bateman

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