Tuvalu: the first digital nation?

17th January 2023
Harry Fowle

Tuvalu, an island state consisting of low-lying islands and atolls, is called home by a population of around 10,500 people across 10sq km. However, with the average height of the islands only reaching less than two metres above sea levels, which are themselves consistently rising, its continuing future is one of uncertainty. Therefore, the small land and ocean nation is now turning to the clouds to digitally clone its islands, culture and history to preserve itself within the Metaverse should the worst come to reality.

In an address during COP 27 in November 2022, Tuvalu’s Minister for Justice, Communication, & Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe announced that given the dire situation, which may see a majority of the island nation submerged by the end of the century, the nation aims to build a digital replica of the state in the Metaverse. During the address, Kofe explained that “As our land disappears, we have no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation… Islands like this one won’t survive rapid temperature increases, rising sea levels, and droughts so we will recreate them virtually.”

A collaborated effort by the Tuvalu government, agency The Monkeys and production house Collider will aim to co-create Tuvalu within the digital realm of the Metaverse with the first step being a digital version of the small and critically endangered Teafualiku Islet.

Why the Metaverse?

The Metaverse is one of the more prominent digital worlds being created today so naturally became the host to this endeavour. Whilst Tuvalu will eventually see itself becoming the first ‘digital nation’, other countries and institutions have already found use for the Metaverse’s virtual world adding to its validity for such a task. The South Korean capital Seoul for example has already begun to use the Metaverse to provide access to its historical sites and other domestic services. It is for these reasons that the Metaverse was chosen to host such a monumental and important task.

What are the benefits for Tuvalu digitising?

With Tuvalu’s future situation being as dire as it is, the main benefits for the nation’s digitising lies in preserving as much of the nation as possible. This is not just limited to its physical form but also its culture and sovereignty which Kofe hopes with be able to live on in the digital world. Beyond that it is also hoped, given the project is a success, it will create a space in the future for the Tuvaluan people to communicate and preserve their language and nationality, something that is crucial for the small populations longevity moving forward. What this does do is bring to question the validity of ‘digital sovereignty’, a dystopian like problem that may be just around the corner if current trends hold.

What does this mean for the future?

Whilst it cannot be dismissed that the overarching hope of Tuvalu’s Minister Kofe was to bring a large amount of attention to the problems of climate change, the genuine aim to digitisation the nation opens a world of possibilities for the future of the Metaverse and similar technologies.

The project demonstrates the adaptability of the Metaverse as a tool in solving difficult real-world problems in completely new ways that otherwise could have been unsolvable. The scale of the endeavour also shows the growing prowess of the virtual world. For example, in 2022 US-based Yuga labs reported $320m from the sales of 55,000 virtual plots of land within the Metaverse. Beyond this, it also examples the potential of the Metaverses social utility, especially as the technologies surrounding it, such as VR and AR, becoming more prevalent by the year.

As the market of the Metaverse gradually grows, especially with projects such as this one in the works, so too will its sustainability moving forward, only encouraging further growth.

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