Sustainability: How Expo 2020 Dubai is keen to promote a viable future
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Sustainability: Expo 2020 Dubai is keen to promote a viable future

Sustainability: Expo 2020 Dubai is keen to promote a viable future

Expo 2020 Dubai’s sustainability Pavilion, Terra, aims to serve as a microcosm of a viable tomorrow

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein famously said. That is perhaps the ingenious approach warranted today to help build a clean tomorrow.

In an attempt to raise awareness around the global sustainability cause and serve as an engaging platform to showcase solutions, beckon interest and encourage collaboration, Expo 2020 Dubai has made it one of its subthemes. In line with that, it has created Terra, the Sustainability pavilion, stationed as the centrepiece of the sustainability district.

Designed by UK-based Grimshaw Architects, Terra draws attention to the impact of human choices on the environment via an immersive journey. The visitor experience is designed to encourage all those who come by to introspect and consider behavioural changes to actively help build a safe and healthier planet.

Visitors were granted a special preview of the sustainability pavilion from January 22 until April 10 this year, as a prelude to the actual event, an opportunity taken up by more than 100,000 people. Terra’s call to change bore fruit as 96 per cent of the surveyed visitors in the first seven weeks of the preview said that they were inspired to change their behaviour – from saving water to using less plastic.

Besides hosting Terra, the sustainability district is also home to several country pavilions that are keen to showcase advancing technologies within the sector. From discovering Brazil’s biodiversity and Netherlands’ integrated climate system to experiencing Singapore’s rainforest and Germany’s cutting-edge technology, the district offers a glimpse of a technology-driven future that advocates for a cohesive existence.

“Expo 2020 Dubai has proudly set the course to host one of the most sustainable world expos ever, and that speaks to the role it can play in facilitating critical discussions – to yield tangible solutions for pressing global issues like sustainability,” notes Aamer Sheikh, president and general manager – PepsiCo, MENA and Pakistan.

Critical endeavours
“Would you rather save the Earth or touchdown on Mars?” – one of the several thought-provoking enquiries posed to visitors at the Sustainability pavilion begs the question on how mankind wishes to envision its future while laying bare the compelling urgency of environmental concerns that threaten the lives of generations to come.

That the planet we call home is in peril is nothing new. More than 356,000 deaths in 2019 were related to heat and that number is likely to rise, a study published in The Lancet revealed. Furthermore, climate changes will increase in all regions in the coming decades, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has projected. For 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes will often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health, the report warned. Reacting strongly to the findings, UN secretary general António Guterres said that the IPCC Working Group 1 report is a ‘code red for humanity’.

Meanwhile, raising concerns over the global plastics system and its detrimental impact, a report by strategy consulting firm Dalberg commissioned by WWF revealed that the cost of plastic produced in 2019 will be at least $3.7 trillion (+/-$1 trillion) over its estimated lifetime.

Furthermore, unless urgent action is taken, the societal lifetime cost of the plastic produced in 2040 could reach $7.1 trillion (+/-$2.2 trillion), equivalent to approximately 85 per cent of global spending on health in 2018 and greater than the gross domestic product of Germany, Canada, and Australia in 2019 combined, the report added.

“There’s one issue which is global and which affects us all, which is climate change. We are racing out of time when it comes to limiting a rise in global temperatures. And we’re already seeing the impact of this in terms of extreme weather conditions,” notes Ahmed Khashan, Cluster president Gulf Countries, Schneider Electric. Bahrain recently experienced its hottest ever August in 119 years.

“We all have a role to play when it comes to limiting carbon emissions – governments, businesses and the public in general,” adds Khashan.

Among alarming calls for interventions to stem environmental degradation, reduce carbon emissions and halt the erosion of natural resources, several efforts are being made locally and regionally.

In March, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the Saudi and Middle East green initiatives with local targets including the planting of 10 billion trees across the kingdom, reducing carbon emissions by more than 4 per cent of global contributions, raising protected areas to more than 30 per cent of the total land area and achieving 50 per cent renewables in the country’s energy mix by 2030. Oman’s OQ also announced earlier this year that as part of an international consortium, it is developing one of the biggest green fuel projects in the world to transform the country’s renewable energy capacity.

Similarly, the UAE has set ambitious agendas to help build a sustainable future. It pledged to reduce carbon emissions by a quarter before 2030, while as per the UAE’s 2050 strategy, the country plans to produce 44 per cent of its energy from renewables, 38 per cent from gas, 12 per cent from clean coal and 6 per cent from nuclear by 2050. Meanwhile, Unit 2 of the Barakah nuclear energy plant was connected to the UAE’s transmission grid last month, within months of commercial operations of the first unit.

The drive to foster change and usher in a clean tomorrow is very much on the cards for private entities too. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways has committed to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050, and to halve its 2019 net emission levels by 2035, while Cisco also recently announced its allegiance to net zero greenhouse gas emissions across all scopes by 2040. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s largest solar-powered car park was completed earlier this year, which would save 5,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. As part of its commitment to sustainability, Amazon also launched its first onsite renewable energy project in the MENA region in the form of a solar rooftop at its largest fulfilment centre in the UAE.

Environmental mindfulness is also gaining traction among consumers as people are envisioning a technology-driven viable future. A report launched by Mastercard, Smart Dubai and Expo 2020 Dubai found that as many as 53 per cent of UAE respondents consider living in a sustainable city as the most exciting innovation in future smart cities, with sustainability emerging as a key aspiration for smart city development.

“Dubai is spearheading the sustainability messaging across the region and delivering one of the world’s most sustainable expos ever. From building and construction to recycling and highlighting eco-friendly solutions, the city is gearing up to create positive change and reaffirm its commitment to sustainability. Furthermore, Dubai is mapping out a comprehensive plan for sustainable urban development in the city to enhance people’s quality of life,” says Brett Girven, principal of The Arbor School.

In September, the school claimed to have become the first school to offer a sustainable uniform in the UAE. “We are 100 per cent aware that on this planet we will run out of resources if we continue to consume at the same rate as many parts of the world are. It’s not an equal amount of consumption, some countries consume more, some countries consume less, therefore the justice element is that we should make sure that everybody consumes proportionately, not some more and some less,” adds Girven.

Ringing in change
Embedding sustainability across the entirety of its operations, Expo 2020 Dubai is turning words into action. It installed renewable energy systems with a combined total capacity of 5.5 megawatts on all permanent building projects across the site. Meanwhile, the 4,912 solar panels on Terra’s 130-metre-wide canopy and 18 energy trees can create 4GWh of alternative energy annually – electricity enough to charge over 900,000 mobile phones.

Furthermore, the exhibition is targeting for 50 per cent of its energy to come from renewables while 85 per cent of all waste, including municipal solid, construction and decommissioning waste, is to be segregated to allow for treatment and diversion from landfill.

Several companies are aligning their efforts to support the event’s goals. “We’ve committed to collect and recycle PepsiCo waste generated on-site at Expo 2020 Dubai,” explains Sheikh. “The global food system needs to be reshaped to be more productive; more inclusive; more environmentally sustainable; and more resilient. These are complex and systemic challenges, and the necessary solutions transcend geographic, disciplinary and institutional boundaries. They require a combination of interconnected actions and partnerships at local, national, regional and global levels, and by both public and private actors.”

Terra-fic attempt
From recycling to fostering natural solutions and prodding introspection by visitors to help build a sustainable, inclusive future, Expo 2020 Dubai is on a journey to sculpt its own ingenious legacy – of invention, change and cohesiveness. “Expo 2020 Dubai is where the world will gather together, and all eyes will be on the country and the emirate. This is our chance as a region to emphasise what we need to do when it comes to sustainability on a global stage, as well as share examples of how the region is taking this subject seriously,” opines Khashan. “We
all need a vision of a greener, more sustainable future right now.”

It is, indeed, now or never for this planet.

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