Digital avatars will allow 8 billion people to be a part of COP27 and demand action

Chris Long tells us how.
Ameya Paleja
Avatars working in metaverse
Avatars working in metaverse

XH4D/iStock 

  • COP27 has begun in Egypt, and 190 countries are expected to participate.
  • Like COP26, the Conference might end up achieving little immediate action on the ground.
  • A U.K. Charity wants everybody to virtually walk to Egypt to change this.

The 2022 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, popularly known as COP27, has begun at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt. This year's event is expected to see visits from 90 heads of state and representation from 190 countries. Advances in digital technology mean that ordinary people can make their presence felt too at this event with the use of digital avatars.

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The term avatar has gained more prominence in the past year thanks to the discussions about the metaverse. However, Get2COP, an initiative by a not-for-profit community-interest-company (CIC) based in the U.K., has developed smartphone-based apps that can represent groups and virtually take them to COP without causing thousands of tons of emissions that would otherwise be needed to get people physically to the event.

Digital avatars will allow 8 billion people to be a part of COP27 and demand action
Chris Long with his app

Get2COP is the brainchild of Chris Long, a man who is no stranger to mass movements for action. Between 1986 and 1988, Long created two mass movements, Sport Aid and Run The World, which involved more than 20 million people in 89 countries. Participants in these movements ran simultaneously to raise around $35 million to support families in Ethiopia and Sudan and even succeeded in convincing governments to cancel $150 million of African debt.

With Get2COP, Long has turned to technology to get an even larger number of people involved to raise awareness of climate change and demand action on the environment. Available as an app through Apple and Google stores, the Get2COP allows users to form groups and walk around their local area while counting the steps toward Egypt.

Users can pick any of the 16 digital avatars to represent their group, each signifying an action to stop climate change that the group is most passionate about. Actions vary from reducing deforestation to changing consumer habits that are harming our environment, halting the incineration of plastic, and improving the management of our oceans, to name a few.

Interesting Engineering spoke to Chris Long to understand the inspiration behind this plan and how he sees it translates into effective action. He also shared his views about the COP events conducted every year.

Interesting Engineering: What was the inspiration behind the idea?

Chris Long: The inspiration behind the get2cop project came from my experience mobilizing 20 million people in 89 countries in May 1986. The event Sport Aid and Race Against Time was a mass protest delivered to the doorstep of the UN in New York. It still is the largest mass participation demonstration in history. I believe we need to do something like that event again for Climate Action.

What are you doing this time around?

Unlike in 1986, today, we have the internet, emails, mobile phones, and social media. We are embracing this digital communication technology and have created dedicated Android and iOS apps that can link the world together to enable another global protest and act of global unity to protect our planet.

How will the avatars be displayed? Where and when will they be displayed?

One avatar from a selection of 16 is selected to represent each person’s journey from wherever they live in the world to the doorstep of the UN at COP. Each avatar represents a different aspect of climate change, and all the avatars are shown on a world map - making their journey to COP. A leaderboard of avatars indicates those that resonate most with individuals. 

What do people need to do to get involved? How does the technology work?

Simply download the app, sign up, make a pledge and then join up with friends, family, communities, countries, etc. to get their avatar to COP. The app connects to Google Health (Android), Apple Health (iOS), or Fitbit and counts individual/group steps/miles, and moves each avatar toward COP. The entire global map and participation statistics/demographics etc. can be displayed on large screens.

How can this help?

In 1986, with Sport Aid, 20 million protested at the UN that governments should do more to help the famine victims of Ethiopia and Sudan. It was people's power. I hope that we can involve millions again, lead by example, and pressure governments and corporations to do the same. If we reduce global emissions by just 8 percent each year, we can halve global emissions in a decade.

In your opinion, does a conference like COP have to be an in-person event?

COPs don’t achieve very much as politicians and policymakers are more concerned with the politics of today and their own national issues. We, the 8 billion people on this planet, must now make it the most important issue of today.

We must change our mindset and empower each and every one of us to make a difference. COPs do not have to be in-person events. On the contrary, get2cop enables everyone to be part of COPs virtually and yet, powerfully.

Why do you think policymakers are not taking urgent action on climate change?

The end of the world isn’t imminent. When faced with COVID-19, governments shut down entire economies. People stayed at home. International air travel was suspended. 

One thing’s for sure: governments and people can make huge, sweeping changes in a crisis. In circumstances of immediate life or death, most of us will, given the opportunity, take action to reduce our risk. 

Climate change, on the other hand, while potentially bringing about the end of the world as we know it, does not affect policymakers with the same urgency. We need to change this mindset.

Beyond COP, what actions are you planning to take to get policymakers to take climate change more seriously?

Continue with our project and build a movement of global citizens who can make a difference. Get2cop this year is just a test for us. We have rolled out the app for user feedback and improvement.

We will reset for COP28, and next year we will build our constituency of compassion and action to effect real change and deliver to the door of the UN COP conference on the very first day.