Tuvalu wants to preserve its post-climate change sovereignty by becoming the first virtual country

Tuvalu wants to preserve its post-climate change sovereignty by becoming the first virtual country

Tuvalu’s defining attribute on the world stage is the precarious nature of its existence – in less than a hundred years it will disappear. But, in an effort to preserve Tuvalu’s maritime borders, culture and sovereignty in the face of stochastic events and rising sea levels, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Kausea Natano announced he was leading Tuvalu to an online existence – Tuvalu will be the first “digital” country.

In an address to leaders at COP27, Natano outlined the climate threats facing Tuvalu and told the world that he plans to bring Tuvalu into the metaverse with the aim of preserving the land, culture and customs of the nation.

“Our digital nation will provide an online presence that can replace our physical presence and allow us to continue to function as a state,” Natano announced.

The Tuvalu speech brought to the fore a concept that many have never even heard of – the metaverse – an online world mirroring the physical world.

The lost island

The first country in the world destined to become a virtual-only state has an indescribably small existence. Tuvalu sits barely above sea level, spread across nine islands located midway between Australia and Hawaii. These Polynesian islands – a freckle, invisible on many maps – are the world’s fourth smallest nation, with a population of around 12,000 and an area of ​​ten square miles.

Last week at COP27, Natano called on more countries to support the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, aimed at reducing and then eliminating fossil fuel production around the world.

Tuvalu and its fate have long been on the agenda of international summits and climate change consortia. Tuvaluan officials have called the UN and spoken at several COP summits, advocating for reductions in fossil fuel use and aid to countries suffering its consequences. Yet little has been done.

For years, Tuvalu and many other small countries have called on high-emitting countries such as the United States, China and Russia to financially compensate countries with low carbon expulsions – those who feel the effects of these emissions the most. emissions.

At the end of this year’s COP27, the establishment of a “loss and damage” fund for small low-emitting countries was approved, but a phase-out or even a reduction in the use of fossil fuels has opposed, largely by oil-producing countries. . Still, many countries view the agreement for major emitters to contribute to this fund as a big win.

A virtual reality

Tuvalu is not the first nation to plan a dip in digitalization. In 2014, Estonia started the process of digitization, even creating an e-residency option to go along with Estonian businesses and online businesses. They relied on blockchain in this transition, the basis of how modern cryptocurrency works.

While Estonia serves as a study of what an online existence (albeit partial) can entail, Tuvalu’s approach differs; it plans to build itself entirely within the metaverse to retain its sovereignty and create an archive of Tuvaluan culture.

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Tuvalu’s digitization plans create maritime legal questions that law of the sea scholars have pondered for decades. Laws regarding sovereignty are usually based on physical lands, so legally the answer is unclear.

“It is fascinating to note that when the law of the sea was negotiated, it never occurred to anyone that the coasts were shifting,” says professor of political geography Philip Steinberg, “and even that land areas potentially disappear”.

Fishing is also a major industry in Tuvalu and is part of why Tuvalu seeks to retain its sovereignty. Tuvalu also leases its website domain, “.tv”, to companies like Twitch, which makes up a fair share of the country’s gross national income.

“I do not think so [digitalization] will lead to a serious reconstruction,” says Steinberg. “It’s a call for help: it’s a performance. It’s a way of emphasizing that things can’t go on as they are, which many entities do at COP meetings…it’s part of that larger call to action. »

Tuvalu is perhaps just the first island nation to begin the foray into a virtual, computerized existence – from mid-Pacific reality to being backed by electric pulses, 1s and 0s. Some believe this announcement will not create a precedent, but will rather serve as a means of raising awareness. “[Tuvalu isn’t] say we’re going digital in the sense that going digital means giving up any sort of claims to specific spaces,” Steinberg told Salon. have?'”

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