How immersive technology is helping us and our leaders engage in climate dialogue | مركز سمت للدراسات

How immersive technology is helping us and our leaders engage in climate dialogue

Date & time : Sunday, 12 May 2024

Flora McCrone, Jemilah Mahmood

Changes wrought on our climate by human activity are starting to take their toll. Last year, 2023, was the hottest year on record — and all the evidence suggests that this crisis is set to escalate.

This threatens the stability of Earth’s vital systems and endangers human and planetary health.

Global collaboration is fundamental in the process of building appropriate response pathways to address this crisis. This year’s Planetary Health Summit, in April, showed how emerging technology like Augmented and Virtual Reality can bolster this effort, offering new ways for us and our leaders to connect with the climate crisis and its solutions.

An unpredictable planet

Many of the key climate indicators for 2023 exceeded previous records, including sea and land surface temperatures, ocean heat, ocean acidification and sea level rise, with even leading scientists surprised by the speed thresholds have been breached.

The heating of the planet has now projected us into a reinforcing feedback loop, where the functioning of the climate system itself has been altered, making it ever more unpredictable.

The nature and climate crisis has driven the planet into uncharted territory, bringing us ever closer to multiple Earth system ‘tipping points’, with potentially disastrous consequences. These tipping points are likely to reinforce rather than reduce heating and once triggered cannot be rectified by emissions reductions.

The Global Tipping Points Report 2023 identified over 25 tipping points in total across 22 Earth systems. Of these, there were five major Earth system tipping points already at risk of being crossed now, at 1.2°C of global heating, and another three at risk at 1.5°C or above. The breaching of tipping points brings unprecedented widescale global risks, which are difficult to quantify and forecast due to the unpredictability of the system itself and the unknown scale of the domino effect between different tipping points.

Consequences of tipping points vary at the local level from wildfires, extreme temperatures, increased air pollution, higher frequency of droughts and extreme weather. At the global scale, tipping points will lead to additional natural carbon emissions reaching the atmosphere, such as those at risk of release from permafrost degradation, and will lead to higher rates of sea-level rise.

The planetary health crisis is a human health crisis

Alongside the clear association with extreme weather events and sea level rise, a warming world disrupts the vital systems supporting humanity, including food, health, energy and the global water cycle. In order to adequately respond and adapt to the realities of a changing planet, decision makers must acknowledge that we are living through not just an environmental crisis, but a crisis putting the future of humanity, and life as we know it, at risk.

Planetary health is a nascent field spanning multiple sectors and disciplines, making the connections between how the health of our planet directly and indirectly affects human health and livelihoods. Many of the human processes that further perpetuate the climate crisis and degrade our environment are also a cause of the negative impacts we are experiencing as humans.

  • Air pollution is the cause of a large burden of ill-health in humans, responsible for around 11.3% and 12.2% of female and male deaths respectively worldwide.
  • Intensive land-use fragments forests and brings people closer to water-borne, vector-borne and zoonotic diseases. For example, in Malaysian Borneo, deforestation is likely increasing transmission of zoonotic malaria between macaque monkey populations and plantation workers.
  • The climate crisis is associated with greater risks of typically tropical infectious diseases occurring in Europe and the United States with the emergence of dengue, West Nile fever and chikungunya, and has implications for mental health, with a rise in anxiety and depression particularly among youth and for people directly impacted by disasters.

Climate dialogue at the Planetary Health Summit

The answer to this escalating challenge lies in cooperation between stakeholders both local and global.

To this end, the Global Collaboration Village brought the latest data and evidence of the links between climate tipping points and human health to April’s Planetary Health Summit and 6th Annual Meeting in Malaysia.

The Village immersed participants in an interactive world where they explored scientific data and scenarios in conversation and leaders discussed both consequences and actions in real-time.

Holding the first summit and annual meeting in Asia was timely, given the region’s high risk of climate-related disasters and the fact that the continent is warming faster than the global average.

The summit convened scientists, researchers, politicians, civil servants and activists from around the world to build a future-focussed global roadmap and action plan, laying out six key actions to address various aspects of the planetary health crisis. This makes Malaysia the first country in southeast Asia to develop a national planetary health action plan.

Leveraging tech for planetary health

The Global Collaboration Village partnered with Sunway University for the Planetary Health Summit to host 13 immersive expert-facilitated sessions and engaging over 70 participants across academia, policy, business and civil society, including HRH Prince Hassanal Shah of Pahang, Malaysia.

Using cutting-edge extended reality technology, the Climate Tipping Points Hub immersed participants in an interactive world, using Virtual and Augmented reality tech to overcome traditional barriers of distance and jargon, making the abstract and future consequences of today’s decisions palpable and urgent.

Research has shown that XR (Extended Reality) can significantly boost empathy towards societal issues compared to traditional methods. This emphasizes XR’s pivotal role in increasing the accessibility of complex climate data and emotionally connecting users to the issues associated with planetary health, which can catalyze a shift from awareness to collective action.

Datuk Azmir Saifuddin Mutalib, Chief Executive Officer of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia, who attended a session in the Village’s Climate Tipping Points Hub at the Planetary Health Summit, said: “The Global Collaboration Village is a good tool for education especially for telling stories regarding the environment. We went to the Arctic to experience an environment we physically are [not able to visit].”

Dato’ Seri Prof Dr Ir Zaini Bin Ujang, Secretary General at the Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia, said: “The [Village] offers a captivating virtual reality experience that transcends geographical boundaries, enabling seamless interaction and collaboration among participants worldwide.”

The Village’s journey to the Planetary Health Summit was a pivotal moment — it marked the Village’s introduction to in-person audiences in Asia for the first time, and underscored the potential of immersive technology in fostering strategic collaborations between decision-makers, catalyzing action and ultimately supporting the future health of our people and planet.


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