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WEF’s New Immersive Technology Hub to Address Climate Tipping Points

Part of the Global Collaboration Village, leaders can now come together in the metaverse to experience and solve the deepening effects of the climate crisis.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has launched an immersive Polar Tipping Points Hub — an immersive, virtual-reality space in which global leaders can gather to craft solutions to address the pressing issue of climate tipping points. The purpose-driven platform — part of WEF’s virtual Global Collaboration Village — will provide a forum in the metaverse for innovators and decision-makers to solve the deepening effects of the climate and nature crises, particularly those located in the polar regions.

The launch of the hub coincides with the annual summer sea ice extent minimum in the Arctic, which adds a timely emphasis on the pressing need to address polar warming and climate challenges. The ability to simulate the tipping points at different temperatures in real time could help drive faster decision-making.

"Breaching the planetary tipping points will bring dire consequences for the interconnected ecosystems that support life on our planet,” said Gim Huay Neo, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for Nature and Climate at the World Economic Forum. “By understanding the drivers and impacts, the global community can respond more effectively to the climate and nature crises. Through collective action, business and government can innovate, mitigate and adapt to the risks associated with global temperature rise and the resulting tipping points in the polar regions, and beyond.”

Highlighting the urgency of polar warming

Image credit: Accenture

Human-induced warming, as the world approaches and surpasses a 1.5°C increase, is edging dangerously close to triggering several critical polar tipping points. Among the 16 climate tipping points identified by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, six are in particularly precarious states — even with temperature rises below 2°C. Five of these tipping points are located in the polar regions, encompassing both the Arctic and Antarctic. The interconnectivity, or teleconnections, between regions means many seemingly disparate tipping points are bonded — so, this situation has global implications.

The nexus of polar tipping points, with the potential to disrupt interconnected Earth systems, can lead to stability challenges across geographies. This includes the albedo effect, which relates to the reflectivity of surfaces. High albedo reflects more sunlight, while low albedo absorbs — which impacts both climate and temperature. The whiteness of the snow and ice layer reflects heat away from the Earth and prevents it from warming the oceans and land (including permafrost) even more; but this albedo effect is declining due to polar ice and snow loss.

There is also a long-term, linear relationship between carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity and Arctic sea ice decline — which means that, as emissions increase, sea ice will continue to decline. The decline is already accelerating global vulnerabilities such as extreme weather, heat stress, compromised food and water security, climate migration and disruptions in supply chains.

An evolving platform for visualization and collaboration

The Global Collaboration Village — a WEF metaverse where organizations can convene to learn about, create solutions for, and take action on the world’s most pressing challenges — launched in 2022 in partnership with Accenture and Microsoft. Within it, the Polar Tipping Points Hub offers an immersive experience that allows collaborators to visualize the ramifications of polar warming on Earth's intricate systems. Through a monitoring station, visitors gain a deeper insight into three of the five pivotal polar tipping points that become precarious if temperatures rise by 1.5°C or beyond.

The Hub will serve the dual purpose of enhancing awareness and facilitating cross-sectoral collaboration among Village partners and existing Forum communities. The hub is a work in progress, continually incorporating new data to ensure it remains at the forefront of polar and climate research; collaboration on new and combined data sets from Arctic Basecamp, NASA, the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and other institutions has been instrumental to the development of the hub.

Partnering for a resilient future
The Polar Tipping Points Hub launch aligns closely with the WEF's commitment to addressing global challenges through concerted initiatives. Enabling virtual immersion into the polar regions will illustrate current warming trends and the consequent cascade of risks, offering a vital tool for comprehending the urgency of unified action.

"The ability to connect and collaborate in shared immersive spaces, spanning distances and devices, can inspire team creativity and outcomes that may otherwise not have been possible," said Navjot Virk, VP of Microsoft Mesh. "The Global Collaboration Village's Polar Tipping Points Hub demonstrates how people can leverage immersive experiences built on Microsoft Mesh technology to see and better understand the complex and interconnected challenges of global issues, like climate change."

As of now, the Global Collaboration Village is comprised of three main areas:

  • A town hall: The WEF’s “Virtual Congress Center” for future sessions or meetings such as plenaries, workshops and bilaterals.

  • Collaborative centers: Virtual collaboration spaces for immersive storytelling intended to inspire collaboration, experiential learning and real-world impact on global issues. For example, in addition to the Polar Tipping Points Hub, there’s an Ocean Hub in which participants can dive into the ocean’s depths and explore why and how marine ecosystems must be protected to preserve both life on land and in water.

  • Stakeholder campuses: Forum Partners can shape their presence, convene their stakeholders, and partner with others to innovate and find solutions to global challenges.

WEF says it will continue to invite organizations to build in these immersive spaces to further bolster learning, collaboration and partnership. The initiative’s aim to strengthen and re-energize international cooperation is guided by four principles:

  • global cooperation toward shared solutions;

  • interactive immersion to foster better understanding;

  • broad participation enabled by inclusive discussions; and

  • individual and collective action as a catalyst for maximum impact.

"At the World Economic Forum, our central mission is to convene stakeholders for collaborative problem-solving, to improve the state of the world,” said Rebecca Ivey, Head of the Global Collaboration Village. “The Village democratizes this process by using immersive technologies that enable us to achieve more together, even across distances. Our aim is to make these tools accessible to diverse audiences, amplifying their potential to contribute to the betterment of the world. "