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Expo 2020 Dubai will turn into a global platform for raising awareness and defining actionable solutions for our home planet. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Starting October 1, 2021, the world’s 191 countries will gather in one place, driven by the common objective to connect minds and create our future. Without immediate collective action, however, our future remains largely undecided. As the world grows hotter and climate change is no longer a far reality, Expo 2020 Dubai hopes its platform will provide a foundation for a collaborative, people-centred strategy to help heal the planet. And the best way to do this is through the sustainable allocation of resources – something Expo 2020 knows a thing or two about.

Sustainability - mindful consumption of the world’s limited natural resources without depletion - is an undercurrent that runs through all the experiences at the world fair, from its infrastructure and construction to the legacy it will leave behind for Dubai and the UAE. Under the thematic umbrella of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, Expo has even dedicated one of its three sub-themes to underscore environmental challenges and their solutions in the Sustainability District. (The other two districts are named Mobility and Opportunity.)

Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion in the Sustainability District, one of the three Thematic Districts at Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Vision in line with UAE and international drivers

All efforts are in line with green initiatives outlined by national drivers: the UAE Centennial 2071 Plan, which is a five-decade strategy to invest in generations to come; the UAE Vision 2021, a vision comprised of six national priorities that also coincides with the nation’s Golden Jubilee; the Dubai Plan 2021, launched to develop a holistic future for the city; and Dubai Clean Energy Strategy, where 75 per cent of Dubai’s energy will derive from clean sources by year 2050.

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also aids Expo in shaping its strategy with reference to the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals that range from clean energy to climate action.

In 2012, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched a 'green economy for sustainable development’ initiative that the world exposition reflects through its actions to educate and raise awareness, build smart cities, tackle climate change and instil a circular approach to resource management.

A snapshot of a sustainable Expo

An expected 25 million visits are expected at the World’s Greatest Show, and what better time to inspire the global audience to commit to a sustainable lifestyle than the six-month period of gathering, especially in a world newly emerging from the pandemic.

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CEEQUAL, an international sustainability assessment, rating and awards scheme for infrastructure projects, awarded eight Expo projects such as Al Wasl Plaza (pictured), parks and the public realm with an ‘Excellent’ certification. Image Credit: Supplied

Here is a snapshot of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Sustainability Strategy, which will aid the UAE in hosting one of the most sustainable World Expos in history:

  • 50 per cent of Expo 2020 Dubai’s energy will come from renewable energy sources, as all of the permanent buildings are fitted with solar panels and other clean energy systems.
  • CEEQUAL, an international sustainability assessment, rating and awards scheme for infrastructure projects, awarded eight Expo projects such as Al Wasl Plaza, parks and the public realm with an ‘Excellent’ certification. The event is aiming for another third-party assessment, the green building LEED standard, for more than 120 of its permanent buildings.
  • 25 per cent reduction in potable water use in buildings, with all water for irrigation and cooling to be recycled water.
  • 85 per cent of all waste to be segregated, treated and diverted from landfill.
  • Alternative, low-emission modes of transport to commute to the venue such as the Expo’s dedicated metro station and Expo Rider buses.
  • 90 per cent of building materials used in permanent construction will be retained for the smart city – Expo 2020 Dubai’s physical legacy District 2020.
  • 90 per cent of key materials used have been procured with respect to Sustainable Materials Guidelines – for instance, all timber used on site has to have either the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certification or Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification (PEFC).
  • 50 per cent of landscape plants will be native or adaptive to preserve the local environment.
Creatures of the Expo site
More than 20 animal species were found on site during construction and, as per staff instructions, were relocated safely to protect biodiversity.

In 2019, the contractors working on the Sustainability District discovered a hive of honeybees in a pile of steel bars. After the organisers were alerted, the bees were relocated to the Beekeepers Association’s Bee Garden at The Sustainable City in Dubai, where their honey is being harvested into 100 Expo 2020 jars. Once the event wraps up in March 2022, the bees will be brought back to the site.

In 2020, Expo turned to stray cats and established a ‘Cat Committee’ that would trap, neuter and release the felines and find them new homes. Others rescued include a Cheesman’s gerbil, a Schmidt's fringe-toed lizard, a falcon, hares and more small mammals and reptiles.
Rare bee colony rescued at Expo 2020 Dubai site Gulf News

Meet the net-zero energy and water building: Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion

Besides green architecture elsewhere on the site with CEEQUAL certification, Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion is aspiring to become a Platinum-certified LEED building. This means the pavilion, designed by UK-based Grimshaw Architects, will generate as much energy from the sun and water from the air as it consumes, setting an example for sustainable building designs of the future.

Trees that face the sun

When the pavilion was open to the public briefly from January to April this year, visitors roamed in the shade of the 130-metre-wide canopy at the heart of Terra, surrounded by other 18 Energy Trees.

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Energy Trees, fitted with solar panels, dot the Sustainability Pavilion landscape among real flora. These trees face the sun (pictured) to store as much sunlight as possible. Image Credit: Supplied

Using their 4,912 solar panels, the bespoke trees can produce four Gigawatt hours of alternative energy per year, the sum of which can charge more than 900,000 mobile phones. To absorb plenty of sunshine during the day, the Energy Trees will always face the sun, tracking its path across the sky like giant sunflowers.

Thanks to the pavilion’s inverted-cone canopy design, the shape allows for natural air ventilation and even provides a skylight for visitors inside.

Harvesting water from air

Potable water for the pavilion is generated by filtering condensation, sometimes naturally through reed beds, gathered from the air handling unit. There is even a Water Tree on the pavilion premises that harvests water from humid air, powered by solar energy.

The surrounding flora will be irrigated using recycled grey water (used water drainage from basins, washing and cleaning) and irrigation schedules will be closely monitored through Siemens’ MindSphere platform to conserve water. The organisers hope to reduce landscaping water demands by 75 per cent by planting local species that would require less watering.

A lesson in saving the planet

Our environmental footprint exists, and its sheer size has become an indelible mark on our home. The role we play as consumers and the habits we can break to save Earth are all part of the emotional 45-minute journey at Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion.

Under the ocean, visitors will find an angry anglerfish whose body is clogged with plastic rubbish. Image Credit: Supplied

Expo 2020 uses this platform to raise awareness and empower its visitors to commit to better choices for the environment. They can expect to meet an anglerfish along the way whose body is clogged with plastic rubbish under the ocean; they can also walk across the dense forest floor, its roots forming the ‘wood-wide-web’ that will react to their every step.

Terra’s didactic role will extend into the legacy phase of Expo 2020 by transitioning into a Science Centre as part of District 2020 – the smart city to evolve from the world fair.

Supporting global innovators and their sustainable solutions

Expo 2020’s motto of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ will manifest in a number of initiatives aimed at funding and empowering actionable solutions for people and the planet.

The ‘Expo Live’ initiative, for instance, has selected 142 global innovators from a pool of 11,000-plus applications to offer a grant of up to $100,000 (Dh367,320) each under the Innovation Impact Grant Programme. Meet the inventors from 76 different countries, who are solving challenges in healthcare, agriculture, waste, water and many other sectors at The Good Place Pavilion by Expo Live.

Other chances to engage with tangible solutions lie in the Best Practice Area of Mission Possible – The Opportunity Pavilion, where 50 projects part of the ‘Global Best Practice Programme’ targeting select United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) will be on display. One of these is the pandemic-related handwashing solution in Ghana by Dubai-based charity Project Maji.

District 2020: Beyond Expo 2020

With multiple programmes and comprehensive strategies for the long term, Expo 2020 Dubai belies the World Expo format's temporary nature. In practice, such conventions under the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) are meant to gather the countries of the world for up to six months. However, Dubai planned to retain 80 per cent of the Expo-built structures from the very start.

Come October, 2022, the 4.38-square-kilometre site will go by the new name of District 2020. The transition to a human-centric community would take six to nine months after Expo wraps up, converting most of the infrastructure, including select country pavilions such as Luxembourg Pavilion, into commercial and residential buildings.

Around 130-plus buildings connected by Mindsphere will continue to monitor energy and water consumption in real time during this legacy phase. The smart city will follow sustainable practices to become a blueprint for urban ecosystems, where people can live, work and play all in one place, allowing Expo 2020 Dubai to leave behind an imprint for decades to come.

- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.