The EXPO 2017 international specialized exhibition was launched on June 9, 2017, in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, at a spectacular grand opening ceremony hosted by President Nursultan Nazarbayev and attended by 17 heads of state and government, including the presidents of China and Russia and the prime ministers of India and Pakistan. The Astana EXPO officially opened its doors to the general public on June 10 and will last three months until September 10, 2017. It is expected that about 3 million people will visit the exhibition, including citizens of Kazakhstan and foreign nationals, mostly tourists from Russia, other CIS countries, China, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The main theme of the exhibition, Future Energy, along with the three subthemes – Reducing CO2 Emissions, Living Energy Efficiency, and Energy for All – reflects the preoccupation of the international community with the problem of irresponsible energy consumption and resulting damage to the human livelihood and our planet’s environment. Therefore, the Astana EXPO focuses on sustainable energy issues, including the development of innovative and practical energy solutions to tackle social, economic and environmental challenges. More than 100 countries and 15 international organizations as well as a number of transnational companies take part in the event, and each pavilion offers its own concept of future energy and presents a unique exposition of energy related breakthroughs. Kazakhstan’s national pavilion called Nur Alem is the central element of the vast exhibition complex covering 25 hectares. Being the world’s largest spherical building with the diameter of 80 meters and built using energy efficient materials, Nur Alem is the hi-tech architectural symbol of the exhibition.
When Astana was chosen as the host of the exhibition in November 2012 during the 152nd General Assembly of the International Exhibition Bureau, it became clear that the EXPO 2017 would turn into the largest and truly national project of independent Kazakhstan that would mobilize the country’s political, economic and social resources. It is worth mentioning that Kazakhstan is the first country in the post-Soviet space to organize such a major world’s fair. More importantly, the selection of Kazakhstan, the country rich in fossil fuels and other natural wealth that served as the engine of our earlier economic growth, has indicated the international community’s appreciation of the strategic choice our nation made in favor of alternative forms of energy and green technologies. On the other hand, it is also a recognition that Kazakhstan, whose ambitious plan is to bring the share of the renewable energy industry in the total electricity generation to 3% by 2020, 10% by 2030 and 50% by 2050, has a lot of work to do to make that happen, and the EXPO 2017 is intended to promote relevant diversification efforts of the country’s leadership.
Similar to the previous international exhibitions, the Astana EXPO serves as a platform to showcase state-of-the-art technologies and vital innovations as well as to demonstrate the latest scientific and cultural achievements, including one of the most interesting projects – Solar Impulse, the world’s first solar-powered manned aircraft that successfully completed a round-the-world flight. The exhibition also provides its participants from around the globe with a perfect opportunity to share best practices in green economy and renewable energy. In addition, the exhibition organizers have planned an extensive entertainment program consisting of 6,000 various events, including conferences, business workshops, sporting events, arts exhibitions and performances, which are designed to facilitate productive interaction between the stakeholders, develop mutual understanding between the participating nations and introduce them to Kazakhstan’s nature, culture and historical legacy.
In contrast to other EXPO sites that used temporary pavilions, the EXPO 2017 complex and its entire infrastructure will be preserved for future use after the exhibition is over. In accordance with President Nazarbayev’s plan, Kazakhstan will turn this site into the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) that will include a stock exchange, an independent court operating under the Anglo-Saxon law and an independent financial regulator. The AIFC’s main task will be to attract further investment into Kazakhstan, thus helping to transform the country into a knowledge-based innovative and diversified economy driven by the private sector and join the ranks of the world’s 30 most advanced nations. Moreover, the EXPO site will house two newly created entities – the International Center for the Development of Green Technology and Investment Projects, and the International Technopark of IT Startups, as well as a number of scientific laboratories and research institutes.
Thus, the EXPO 2017 starts a new stage in the development of Astana. First, Kazakhstan’s capital city becomes the Central Asian financial hub and the regional center for developing alternative energy solutions. Secondly, the EXPO 2017 solidifies the city’s role as a successful host of major international forums and events, including the December 2010 OSCE summit, the 2011 Asian Winter Games and four rounds of the Syrian peace negotiations held in the first half of this year. Thirdly, due to the construction of the EXPO venue, Astana has attracted significant investment, generated new jobs, stimulated tourism, acquired a new city district and expanded its modern infrastructure.
It must be recognized that the EXPO 2017 is the result of the long-term vision and forward-thinking strategy of Kazakhstan’s leadership which understands the exhibition’s great potential that the country needs to use in full to make it a turning point in our history. The Astana EXPO is not only a showcase event intended to help international efforts to mitigate climate change and meet growing energy demand, but it is also a necessary step for our young nation to prepare for the transition to a post-oil future. If we manage to take full advantage of this opportunity, the EXPO 2017 will become a part of our new global identity, increase the awareness of the international community about Kazakhstan, strengthen the country’s cooperation with the world’s advanced nations and promote our regional leadership. More importantly, this will give a powerful impetus to Kazakhstan’s innovative development, open up new energy efficient and environmentally safe pathways for sustainable economic growth and foster human capacity building among the general population and especially the young generation through education and professional development.
*Published in the July 2017 No. 19 issue of the “Asya Avrupa: Haber-Yorum” journal.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Dauren Aben holds a Master’s in International Relations from Kainar University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, and a Master’s in International Policy Studies and certificates in nonproliferation studies, conflict resolution, and commercial diplomacy from the California-based Monterey Institute of International Studies. Dauren previously worked as a senior project manager and researcher at the Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education. In 2011-2014, he worked as a senior research fellow at the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In 2008-20