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Tue 27 Dec 2016 01:57 PM

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Why Astana Expo 2017 will boost the UAE's plans for oil-free economy

Kazakh capital is a masterpiece of architecture with a history that stretches back over 1,000 years, says Hana Alawi

Why Astana Expo 2017 will boost the UAE's plans for oil-free economy
Hana Alawi, Founding Partner at Sustainable Square

The Ferris Wheel. The mobile phone. Ketchup. What do these three – very different – items all have in common? They are all inventions first shown at World Expos, global events that take place every two or three years. Launched back in 1851 in London as the Great Exhibition, World Expos have captured the imaginations of millions, showcasing the inventions and innovations that have gone on to shape the way we live our lives.

A key part of any World Expo has been its central theme, whether focused on a particular sector - such as ‘Automobiles’ in Brussels in 1897 - or more overarching messages, such as Milan’s ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’ theme in the most recent Expo, held in 2015. The latter theme led to the Charter of Milan, a pact on urban food policies that was signed off by cities around the world.

But added to social impact and innovation is the event’s capacity to create commercial success too. In Milan last year, 20 million people visited the Expo site over the course of six months, helping to inject an estimated $10 billion into the Italian city’s economy.

So what’s next? The next two World Expos will take place in Astana next year and in Dubai – my home city – in 2020. I believe Expo 2017 Astana is going to be incredible. The Kazakh capital is a masterpiece of architecture with a history that stretches back over a thousand years, making it an ideal location for a truly global event.

The main theme of Expo 2017 Astana is ‘Future Energy,’ which will address a question that’s of interest to every person on the planet. How do we ensure safe and sustainable access to energy for all while reducing carbon dioxide emissions?

In answering this question, I see several similarities between Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates. One of these is that both countries have a vested interest in finding ways to diversifying their economies, and preparing for a future without oil. Kazakhstan has already started the diversification process through attracting foreign direct investment. It’s doing this by improving the quality of its transport infrastructure as well as strengthening its public and market institutions. The country knows it has to build those capabilities if it is to expand its economy in the long term.

Closer to home, the UAE has also started on its journey to shift its economy away from oil and sustainability is playing an ever more important role. Those efforts are paying off; recent rankings named Dubai 52nd and Abu Dhabi 58th in a list of the world’s most sustainable cities, all part of the government’s plan for both cities to be in the top ten globally in the near future.

How has this happened? The UAE government is streamlining this process through the UAE Vision 2021, which has six central tenets. One of them is building a sustainable environment and infrastructure. Measurements for this include an air quality index, preserving water resources, and committing to clean energy. These goals will enable the UAE to minimise its carbon footprint, and make sustainability more accessible to the public.

Already, the UAE has made huge strides. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park will generate 5,000 megawatts of electricity by 2030, enough to power 800,000 homes. In the process, it has also shattered world records for the costs required to produce solar power, helping to turn the tide for renewable energy in the Middle East. In Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s first nuclear reactor is set to open next year, and by 2020 nuclear power will provide carbon dioxide-free energy to a quarter of the nation.

Working towards a sustainable, diversified economy for the nation is essential to keeping a competitive edge and securing a bright future for generations to come. And by also investing in renewable energy education, we can provide the next generation with the necessary skills to understand, implement, and build on a truly sustainable future.

One of the main goals of Expo 2020 Dubai is developing and deploying sustainable energy. Falling under one of the main subthemes – ‘Opportunity, Mobility, and Sustainability’ – the organisers are planning to supply the expo site with renewable energy for the six-month event. In addition, Expo 2020 has begun accepting proposals for its Expo Live programme, which rewards successful applicants with grant money to bring their innovative sustainability ideas to life.

I’m proud to say that the UAE has confirmed its participation in Expo 2017 Astana. I believe that a successful Expo for Astana will fuel growth in sustainable business across the region, building momentum towards the grand opening of Expo 2020 Dubai. We will build on the sustainability solutions that Expo Astana showcases to continue the diversification strategy of the UAE.

Ultimately, Expo 2020 Dubai is about the UAE showing how far a nation can come in only 50 years and just how sustainable its future can be.

About Sustainable Square

Existing in three continents and currently delivering projects in 15 markets, Sustainable Square is a micro-multinational advisory firm that focuses on organizational sustainability, transparency and disclosure, responsible investment and social impact.

Sustainable Square works with leading brands across various industries and sectors, supporting them to enhance their sustainability performance, drive and up-scale their impact and conduct their operations in a responsible inclusive manner.