Pepetua Latasi, Tuvalu Climate Department Director, speaks at a panel discussion on climate security in the Pacific, in the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion of the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit.
( Thomas Hartwell
Melissa Harris-Perry: Welcome back to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
Minister Simon Kofe: We in the Pacific would not sit idly by and wait for the world to act.
Melissa Harris-Perry: This is Simon Kofe, Minister of Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs for Tuvalu. Now, Tuvalu is a small island nation in the Pacific.
Minister Simon Kofe: Today I speak again from my country from a small island that is likely to be one of the first spots in Tuvalu to be submerged by rising sea levels. Since COP26, the world has not acted, and so we in the Pacific have had to act.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The action that Minister Kofe announced at this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, was that Tuvalu was moving its country to the metaverse. Threatened by rapidly rising sea levels, which have already claimed whole islands that are part of the small nation, the people of Tuvalu are now facing imminent danger of losing their entire country to the sea and then the entire people face the possibility of becoming climate refugees without a homeland.
Minister Simon Kofe: As our land disappears, we have no choice but to become the world's first digital nation, our land, our ocean, our culture are the most precious assets of our people, and to keep them safe from harm, no matter what happens in the physical world, we'll move them to the cloud.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What does it mean to move a country into the metaverse, and what does this move signal about whether we still have time to halt the deadly effects of climate change? I sat down with Minister Simon Kofe to understand how the digitization of the nation is connected to Tuvalu's Future Now project, a worst-case scenario plan for survival.
Minister Simon Kofe: Imagining that the 50 or so years in the future, the worst-case scenario is that Tuvalu is fully submerged or that the population of it forced to relocate. The Future Now project is a collection of initiatives that prepares us for that situation. One of the first initiatives under that is looking at how we can influence other countries to take greater responsibility for their actions to consider the well-being of all nations.
The second initiative looks at legal avenues where we can secure our statehood regardless of the impacts of climate change or regardless of the fact that we could lose our physical territory in the future. Currently under international law, in order for you to exist as a state, and this is provided under the Montevideo Convention, a state must have a territory, a government, a population, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.
We're imagining a future where we could lose our physical territory, which then brings into question whether Tuvalu can continue to exist as a state and enjoy the rights of a state under international law. One way we're going about that is getting countries to recognize the legal proposition that a state can continue to exist without a physical territory.
The third initiative looks at, okay, if we are forced to relocate, how can we function as a people, as a state? That's where the digital nation concept comes in as the third initiative. It looks at creating that digital nation to ensure that we can continue to function as a state, our governance and administrative systems are operating from cyberspace, our cultural knowledge, our history, all those things are digitized, fixed from cyberspace.
Finally, the fourth and last initiative looks at, obviously, climate advocacy and how we can best improve our advocacy and look at how we can raise awareness to the greater public. We feel that efforts has been always towards the leaders that make policy decisions, but we feel that the people, I think the power is with the people, and so if people are aware and have knowledge and they are the ones who put pressure on the leaders and put pressure on leaders to take stronger climate action.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about what it means to digitize yourselves to-- It sounds in certainly so futuristic that who you are as a people, as a state will exist in the metaverse. What are the aspects of that?
Minister Simon Kofe: Part of the strategy as well in building digital nation is a strong advocacy in that to the world that a country is planning, is already preparing for that worst-case scenario. Our hope was that it drew attention, but people really thinking seriously about climate change. I know it can be difficult to imagine the realities of climate change when you're living, I guess, in big cities away from the ocean, and so these things can be quite a far off to others.
For us in the Pacific, we're at the forefront of it, we live with the reality of climate change. Part of the strategy of preparing now as well was to send that strong message out to the world and to get people thinking about these issues. Of course, it's a future-looking project, is something that we prepare for the future, but I think it also provides immediate benefits as well for Tuvalu. Digitizing our government services ensures that we're more efficient, we're more accessible to the public. Those are immediate benefits, things that we're also quite keen to deliver for the people.
Also on the side of culture, culture is something that obviously we know is evolving and it changes over time, but I think digitizing our culture now ensures that we at least take a snapshot of what culture is in Tuvalu at this time. It allows us to preserve aspects of our culture, allows Tuvaluans wherever they are in the world to learn and to teach the next generation.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm wondering about any concerns you have as we watch what's happening in the land of Twitter with Elon Musk, and so I wonder about moving into a digital space, which doesn't have a state, doesn't have boundaries in that way, I both see the potential power of that, and also, the potential dangers in a metaverse that is connected to a private corporation. I wonder about the safety of all of what Tuvalu is.
Minister Simon Kofe: Obviously, there's very important considerations for us as well in terms of our data protection and cybersecurity. Those are all issues that we need to think about in, obviously, choosing the right partner or building our own infrastructure to be able to host these things. We know that even US government have things in the cloud with AWS, Amazon. There are countries that are already moving in that direction, and cybersecurity is a big, big issue and consideration in moving forward.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is there any one critical message that you want to send to ordinary folks who are not in Tuvalu?
Minister Simon Kofe: Yes. I guess the message has always been to bring them awareness of what it feels like to be at the forefront of the impacts of climate change. I also feel a sense of great responsibility to share my story and to bring awareness because climate change is something that will affect all of us.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The Honorable Simon Kofe is Tuvalu's Minister of Justice, Communications and Foreign affairs. Minister, again, thank you so much for taking the time today.
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