The silhouettes of construction cranes and buildings located in the vast perimeter which, starting on June 10 next year will host, for three months, EXPO 2017 – one of the largest international expos of the decade – revealed to me for the first time late at night immediately after I landed on the international airport in Kazakhstan’s capital.
Toward the hotel, going past the vast construction site, the contour of this exhibition’s symbol caught my eye in particular, namely the impressive huge sphere that will host Kazakhstan’s National Pavilion,several months from now at this prestigious event. An expo that, according to the host nation’s officials, will serve as a platform for humanity’s achievements in the field of green energy and for exchanging experiences from all over the world in the field of alternative energy. A sector that is growing rapidly everywhere, not only in the host country.
The challenging significance of EXPO-2017 theme – Future Energy – itself makes this specialized expo a very comprehensive and large one in terms of vision, ideas, strategies and display opportunities to make a real difference globally.
Roman Vassilenko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, told us, during his meeting with the group of international journalists invited to Astana by the Foreign Affairs Ministry on the occasion of the snap elections for the Lower Chamber of the Mazhilis, that EXPO 2017’s “Future Energy” theme will promote efforts to find sustainable energy solutions to meet growing global demands.
Kazakhstan’s choice of the topic is more than symbolic and challenging and reflects the pragmatism and recognition by its leaders and policy makers that despite the fact that this country has vast reserves of natural energy resources, they might be ultimately finite. That is why eventually this country and the rest of the world will have to make the transition to alternative energy resources and greener economies.
From this point of view, Kazakhstan has been consistently taking measures to implement its transition strategy to a green economic model and is already working on green energy solutions at home, as the leadership of the country has already approved the concept of the transition to a green economy and the resulting Plan of Action up to 2020. Through talks with persons involved in the management of the EXPO 2017 project, we were to find out that 14 renewable energy projects have been implemented with an aggregate capacity of 120 megawatts in 2015, and that electricity generated from renewable sources last year reached around 700 million kilowatt hours.
“A Council on Green Economy has been established under the President of the country. EXPO 2017 is a logical continuation of our efforts in this field,” the hosts pointed out.
As a matter of fact, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s initiative on Global Energy and Ecology Strategy and the Green Bridge Partnership Programme, both received support at the UN conference on sustainable development RIO+20 in 2012.
Part of Kazakhstan’s 2050 strategy for growth is to reduce carbon emissions in the electricity sector by 40%, the share of gas burning plants in electricity generation by up to 30% and implement the share of alternative energy sources in electricity generation by at least 50%.
Through this commitment and responsible approach, the country has started to evolve into a nation that is pioneering the use of energy efficiency at national level, especially in the areas of energy distribution, urban development and transport.
That’s why, by hosting this exhibition, Kazakhstan’s goal is to challenge all participants to come together to support its initiative to promote the transition towards green development and to drive the world’s focus towards new directions of innovation, growth, development and environment protection for the years to come in order to better manage energy security, pollution and global warming.
It is for these reasons that one of the core challenges that the exhibition will address will be the global effort to reduce carbon emissions by controlling the use of existing and potential energy resources and using new technology to reduce the demand for energy across various industries.
Noteworthy, Kazakhstan won the right to host the exhibition with an overwhelming majority vote of 103 countries from 156 member nations of the International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE), held in Paris on November 22, 2012, and never in its 84-year history has the host city been elected by such a large majority of votes.
Kazakhstan’s election as home for the next world exhibition is a premiere, given that in 222 years since the first international exhibition was hosted by Prague in 1791, no world fairs or universal expos have been held in Central Asia.
Being the first country in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Central Asia to be home for such an international specialized Exhibition, Kazakhstan has high ambitions to show the world that it will win the bet of transforming EXPO 2017 into an unprecedented successful event to bring benefits not only in terms of its international image, prestige and credibility, but also to the region and to the world.
And from this point of view, EXPO 2017 will offer Kazakhstan the opportunity to position itself as a pioneer country in the field of renewable energy sources and green technologies, with a sustained commitment already commenced to greening its economy.
The organizers of the fact-finding visit of the group of international journalists to Kazakhstan’s capital, a group I recently was part of, hinted very accurately how curious we all were to see the stage of the works and preparations for EXPO 2017. So, as expected, several hours after landing in Astana, we were all at the EXPO 2017 headquarters, where the officials involved in the management of this impressive project offered us the latest information about the preparations made for the completion of the works.
The giant steel sphere surrounded by construction cranes dominates the construction site visible from the window of the hall where our hosts took us to see the EXPO 2017 model and to update us on the stage of the construction works.
The symbol of EXPO 2017 will be National Pavilion of Kazakhstan. In addition to the Museum of the Future, this “magic sphere” (which constantly opened up on the model zoom-in at the scale 1/240 , displaying its floors and revealing images worthy of sci-fi films showing how the interior of this construction will look like in just a few months’ time) will accommodate a museum telling the history of Kazakhstan and its people.
The figures of the ambitious project are impressive and the images projected on the screen behind the model, showing the final form of the futuristic buildings, seem out of another reality or dimension: total area of the exhibition is 174 hectares, out of which 25 will accommodate the following facilities: Kazakhstan’s National Pavilion; Best Practices Area Pavilion; International Pavilions (14 units) for more than 100 countries of the world; Thematic Pavilions (4 units) which will demonstrate the evolution of the exhibition theme; Commercial Pavilion (3 units), Energy Hall and Congress Hall. Overall, 38 facilities will be built within the exhibition area, including residential complexes with 4,000 apartments, a school, a kindergarten, a hotel, a meeting hall, an expo plaza and an art centre.
The four Thematic Pavilions suggesting “Future Energy” expo theme will focus each on a separate subtheme, such as Reduction of Carbon Emissions, Energy for Life and Energy for All. A separate World of Energy Pavilion will focus on the role of each individual’s contribution to the efficient use of energy. An international tender will be held in order to select innovative projects and technologies to be demonstrated in the Best Practices Area.
Up to this moment, 75 countries, Romania included, and 14 international organizations have officially confirmed their participation at EXPO-2017 and organizers expect that the total number of visitors will be 5 million, with more than 2 million people as unique visitors.
According to the officials of EXPO 17 project, all construction and installation works will be generally completed by October 2016, when the handling of agreed spaces to the participant countries is expected to start in order for them to begin installation and furnishing of their national exhibition stands.
On the impact of EXPO-2017 on the development of Astana and Kazakhstan, EXPO-2017 officials reiterated in front of us that the theme of exposition—Future Energy, will help Kazakhstan to develop further innovations, which include green technologies based on new fundamental discoveries, new physics and developments of Nikola Tesla.
“As an outcome of this exposition, Astana may become an efficient platform of debate, a forum for demonstrating and displaying the world’s best developments and trends in the area of utilizing solar, wind, biogas, marine current and thermal water energy. In other words, Astana EXPO will be a launch pad for the best knowhow, groundbreaking and advanced projects in the area of conventional and alternative energy generation and consumption”.
Beyond building facilities that will help Kazakhstan in the future to be regarded as a large international exhibition, information and presentation forum, the project’s developers revealed to us that particular focus is placed on post-event use of EXPO facilities, with funds already budgeted for the post-exposition refurbishment of these facilities. For example, we were told, spaces with the height of 8 meters have special inter-floor beams in the walls, so that they could further be reconstructed into standard office spaces.
Before we set out for our next point on the programme prepared for the international group of journalists, the cars we were in passed a gate through which access was strictly controlled and we found ourselves at the heart of the bustling EXPO 2017 construction site. Men and machines worked intensely, despite the cold and the wind. “The works are on schedule, they are working day and night, all around the clock,” my London Post colleague and I were told by Aiman, a young Foreign Ministry diplomat with whom we spent quality time during the three days we were in Astana and who tried to make our stay in the country’s capital a delight and an unforgettable experience.
The road by car to the base of the huge sphere that will host Kazakhstan’s exhibition stand was not simple at all, among piles of dirt, cars, construction equipment, pits and mud. But it was worth it. The huge sphere, with a diameter of 80 metres and a height of 100 metres, is really overwhelming when seen up close.
Domestic companies are involved in EXPO construction to the maximum extent possible and the site has provided good opportunities for local businesses and job seekers. At present, over 3,500 employees work at the construction site, the total number of workers during the finishing stage being expected to reach 10,000, most of them Kazakh nationals.
Astana, the young capital city of this young independent nation, was recently conferred the “City of Peace” UNESCO award. Through all the international events it successfully hosted so far in its young history of less than 20 years, but also through the way it is preparing to host the World Exhibition of 2017, it proves that it fully deserves this brand.
The city has already had a successful track record over the last years of hosting major global gathering events: OSCE Summit in December 2010 and the Asian Winter Games (2011). The fact that it is hosting such a prestigious international specialized event in the year when it will celebrate its 20th anniversary is not a mere coincidence.
“Astana EXPO 2017” is aimed at symbolizing that the city but also the country are embarking on a new era of development and growth. It is one of the Kazakhstan’s key projects aimed at positioning itself as world hub for sustainable energy. Organizers expect from hosting this event, which is similar in scope with the Olympic Games or the World Cup Championships, significant revenues and an increased international prestige and exposure of Kazakhstan’s local culture, traditions and identity. The Kazakh Government also expects EXPO 2017 to have a multiplier effect by increasing international trade and tourism, but also to attract 1 billion Euros in FDI.
Such an ample and challenging exhibition, for the first time in Central Asia, not only will strengthen the position of Astana in this region, but also will confirm the region’s role as a the bridge between East and West, as a cardinal point for starting a new chapter in economic development and innovation.
With such huge stakes ahead in terms of benefits brought to its development but also to its image and prestige, Kazakhstan has only an alternative ahead: to win the bet with “Future Energy”, which is the next logical step in integrating this country into the new global reality and challenges.