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Expo 2020 Dubai, an inspiration for the city of tomorrow

Focused on building the future, Expo 2020 Dubai is rooted in the principle of sustainability. Each country has taken up the theme and given it a cultural, digital or architectural twist.


How can we live better tomorrow, while respecting the environment and the planet? Expo 2020 Dubai is leading the way to a sustainable future by offering visitors from all over the world the opportunity to experience first-hand the environmental threats and the most advanced solutions to address them. This ambition is reflected in the three districts that comprise the site: Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability, with each participating country making its own contribution to these major challenges.

Welcome to the future

In the Sustainability district, the Czech pavilion demonstrates that dry land can be turned into fertile land by using solar energy to extract water condensation from the air, while the Dutch pavilion houses a miniature integrated climate system and features a vertical farm. Used together, innovations can help grow food, collect water and generate electricity, even in the extreme Dubai climate. In the Mobility district, visitors can watch demonstrations of state-of-the-art mobility devices on a 330-metre track or ride a cable-free lift capable of carrying 160 people at a time. A little further away, the South Korean pavilion combines virtual and real environments, with an immersive mobile-guided walk, while the French pavilion features the Flying Whales, airships with a very small environmental footprint designed for cargo transport.

Finally, in the Opportunity district, countries compete with each other to devise new forms of collective intelligence. The United Kingdom, for example, focuses on the cooperation between human and artificial intelligence with a message – part sculpture, part participatory poem – that is displayed and constantly evolving on the façade of its pavilion.

As such, Dubai upholds the long-standing tradition linking World Expos and urban transformation, with lasting impact: the AVE high-speed train network inaugurated in 1992 to connect Madrid and Seville remains one of the pioneers in this transport mode in the world and continues to spur technological advances, notably in artificial intelligence. By choosing “The Oceans: a heritage for the Future” for its theme in 1998, Lisbon focused on an issue that was relevant not only for Portugal, but also for the entire planet.

Creating sustainability in Dubai

More than a showcase for innovation, Expo 2020 Dubai is a forum for solidarity, collaboration and dialogue between the various participating nations. Take a tour of this ecosystem with Dimitri S. Kerkentzes, Secretary General of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).


“Expo 2020 Dubai is a true laboratory, allowing us to develop future solutions together.”

Dimitri S. Kerkentzes,
Secretary General of the Bureau international des expositions (BIE)

What is special about Expo 2020 Dubai?

D.S.K. Expo 2020 Dubai is the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region. In this fast-growing region where two-thirds of the population is under 35 years of age, cosmopolitan Dubai is hosting this event with the theme: Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the theme has taken on a new meaning. Never before has there been such a need for solidarity and cooperation between all nations. Expo 2020 Dubai is a laboratory for developing future solutions together, a catalyst and organiser of partnerships that break down barriers and transcend geographical, cultural and generational divides.


What benefits can a participating country expect?

D.S.K. World Expos are major showcases for both the host and participating countries, particularly in the area of technological and scientific achievements, know-how and lifestyles. Beyond the commercial benefits, a World Expo is also a multilateral platform for public diplomacy that makes it possible to uphold fundamental political values, promote intercultural dialogue and strengthen international solidarity. Therefore, the challenge for a participant is not only knowing what the Expo can do for them, but also how they can contribute to meeting global challenges.


How are future World Expos organised?

D.S.K. It takes almost ten years from the moment a country applies to host an Expo to the moment the Expo closes. Organisers must adopt a holistic planning approach to urban and social regeneration from the outset, with a focus on the long-term effects of holding such an event. It is essential to think about communities, their spaces and territories, and to include all stakeholders, including citizens. The next World Expo, which was initiated in 2017, will be held in 2025 in Osaka, Kansai (Japan), with the theme “Designing Future Society for Our Lives”. As far as the 2030 World Expo is concerned, at present, two countries have submitted their candidacy to the BIE: the Russian Federation (Moscow) and the Republic of Korea (Busan).

How does Expo 2020 Dubai address the theme of sustainability?

D.S.K. The theme of Expo 2020 Dubai, Connecting Minds, Creating the Future, is based on the idea that, in the face of the challenges of today and tomorrow, partnerships and collaboration can find new paths to progress. This is notably the case with regard to sustainability, one of the three sub-themes of the Expo. From the outset of the project, sustainability was illustrated through initiatives to raise awareness among citizens and other stakeholders. For example, the Champions of Sustainability were celebrated in schools as part of the Expo’s Educational Programme, and projects from the “Expo Live” Programme and the “Best Practice” Programme were supported and will be honoured, such as the fog water collection netting by Dar Si Hmad. Through the organisation of thematic weeks, seminars and forums such as the Urban and Rural Development Week in November 2021, Expo 2020 Dubai will connect all those working for a more sustainable world. Everyone will be able to share their ideas and best practices to inspire change and contribute to the creation of a more responsible world.


How has the BIE demonstrated resilience and adaptability in the face of the COVID-19 health crisis? What were its consequences on the organisation of such an event?

D.S.K. All BIE member states decided to postpone the 2020 World Expo by one year; this postponement is a testament to the strong ties that unite us and to our common will to organise a truly inclusive World Expo. Preparations for Expo 2020 Dubai continued both on site and in participating countries. The health and safety of all those visiting and working at the Expo has been and remains the top priority for everyone. In addition to an extensive vaccination campaign within the exhibition and the implementation of protective measures, a smart queuing system for the pavilions was developed. At the same time, Expo 2020 Dubai is utilising state-of-the-art technology to enhance the virtual and digital experience.



Guarantor of Expo quality

Since its creation in 1928, the Bureau International des Expositions has been the guarantor of World Expo quality. By placing education, innovation and cooperation at the heart of these events, it has transformed them from showcases of industrial innovation into platforms for global discussions on major global issues. Today, the BIE comprises some 169 countries. The next Expo, for which preparations began in 2017, will be held in 2025 in Osaka, Kansai. The Expo’s theme is “Designing Future Society for Our Lives”.



The Luxembourg Pavilion, built to last

Through the infinite shape of the Möbius strip, which evokes the circular economy, and the lines that symbolise the openness and dynamism of its country of origin, the Luxembourg Pavilion has played the sustainability card so well that it will have a life of its own once the last visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai have left. The Dubai authorities have offered Luxembourg to take over the pavilion.

For Maggy Nagel, former Minister of Culture of Luxembourg in charge of the Luxembourg @ Expo 2020 Dubai EIG, “this means that Metaform’s, and the team’s, work on this project will be preserved. This magnificent building will fit in perfectly with the innovative nature of the new urban complex that will be developed in the coming years around the current World Expo site.”

Mobility and its international dimension


Nicolas Blain
Head of International Relations and European Affairs, RATP Group

To what extent do international bodies play a major role for RATP Group and all transport operators?

N.B. In a booming global market, international relations are strategic in nature. They allow us to share and develop our expertise with our counterparts. International bodies foster these exchanges and benchmarks. As the world’s third largest urban transport player, RATP Group is very active in this area. It is a member of the International Transport Forum, the “transport” team of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as well as of the COMET global metro network, and is very active in the International Association of Public Transport (UITP). All of these bodies are constantly engaged in constructive dialogue.


Has the health crisis had an impact on mobility and its future?

N.B. Undeniably, yes, although the post-COVID-19 future has yet to unfold. The COVID-19 health crisis was so severe that public transport players could have turned inward to deal with the situation. On the contrary, international exchanges have continued and even multiplied. The UITP played a major role in facilitating international dialogue. For example, it organised webinars that made information sharing easier between professionals on vital subjects such as the cleanliness of rolling stock and stations. In addition, the UITP discussed the future of public transport in an era of increased teleworking and e-commerce. During this period, the UITP has supported its members in their efforts to become resilient against COVID-19.

How do these international bodies contribute to developing public transport?

N.B. Around the world, public transport plays a key role in developing smart, sustainable and inclusive cities; it is even one of their driving forces. Within this framework, international bodies have an important role to play. Take the UITP as an example with 1,800 member companies in 100 countries, this body is a powerful, effective and recognised organisation. For instance, it has conducted extensive work with the European Commission to ensure that public transport, which is in line with the Green Deal’s goals for ecological transition, is taken into account in the recovery plan for Europe.

Promoting sustainable mobility

The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) has existed since 1885. With 1,800 members in 100 countries, it collects and publishes public transport sector data, holds events and initiates research and innovation projects for sustainable urban mobility. As an active member of the UITP, RATP Group is fully committed to this approach, as demonstrated by the inauguration in March 2021 in Casablanca of RATP Dev Digital Hub Morocco, a subsidiary dedicated to innovation.

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