Expo Dubaï: in the Swiss pavilion, sustainability and innovation

Inside the Swiss pavilion, the Alps appear in all their splendour, enveloped in an artificial fog. www.sebastiencrettaz.com

The Swiss Pavilion at the Dubai World Expo takes visitors through alpine landscapes in a spectacle of light and shadow to demonstrate Swiss sustainability, urbanization and innovation. A concept that seems to appeal to the public, despite the pandemic and the many contradictions that characterize the Gulf region.

This content was published on December 18, 2021 – 09:00

With an investment of 16.5 million francs, Switzerland was the first country to participate in Expo 2020 in Dubaiexternal link. This investment is already paying off. Despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic, the Swiss pavilion reached the figure of 500,000 visitors two months after its opening. “The pavilion is always very busy. It is a pleasure to see that it arouses so much interest among the public”, rejoiced Manuel Salchli, general commissioner of the Swiss pavilion, during a telephone interview.

The Expo expects to attract 25 million people from around the world over the next six months, of whom more than 5.6 million have already registered.

For the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Expo is an opportunity to attract foreign companies and investments. The country spent more than 6 billion francs for the exhibition. Switzerland, for its part, intends to maintain relations with its main trading partner in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). “Being present at the Expo is a great opportunity to consolidate and strengthen relations with the United Arab Emirates and Dubai, but also with the whole region,” Salchli said.

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An ambitious project in the midst of a pandemic

With an area of ​​438 hectares, Expo 2020 is the largest international event since the start of the pandemic and already has several records. For the first time, the Universal Exhibition is held in a Middle Eastern country. This year, 192 nations will be present – a record equaled only by Shanghai in 2010 – and, for the first time in Expo history, each will have its own pavilion.

The exhibition is structured around three main themesexternal link: sustainability, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, smart mobility and opportunities for a better future.

This is the concept of the Swiss pavilion, which offers “an emotional and immersive experience in three acts”, a staging that goes from the Arabian desert to the Swiss mountains and finally, to the city of the future. Visitors become the protagonists of a game of mirrors, colors and lights darkened by the alpine mist, to reappear in an innovative and sustainable urban environment.

“Especially now that so many people are glued to the computer due to the pandemic, we crave these emotional experiences. This is what the Swiss Pavilion offers and is one of the reasons for its success,” says Salchli. So far, the Swiss pavilion has been one of the most visited, along with those of Pakistan, India, Italy and Saudi Arabia, which recently reached one million visits. .

The pavilion is called reflections, a name with two meanings: the reflections created by the mirrored facade of the structure, on the one hand; the most introspective and profound reflection on the beauty of nature and sustainable development, on the other hand.

The last part of the pavilion houses a temporary exhibition which changes every week according to the themes of the Expoexternal link, from space and climate exploration to urban development and inclusion. The pavilion is sponsored by companies such as Schindler, Roche, Novartis and Nestlé.

Sustainability in space and on Earth

The pavilion places special emphasis on Switzerland’s innovative strength. Like many other countries, the Alpine nation places a strong emphasis on sustainability, which is at the heart of the Expo. “Switzerland is convinced that innovation plays a key role in promoting sustainable development. As leaders in innovation and recycling, we want to discuss and exchange best practices,” says Salchli.

One of the most interesting Swiss projects promoted at the Expo is that of ClearSpace, a start-up from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).external link, which aims to create an efficient and cost-effective system to clear the 3,000 pieces of space debris scattered in Earth’s orbit. It is one of EPFL’s flagship technologies, created with the mandate and funding of the European Space Agency (ESA), which selected it for the first space debris removal mission.

The Plasticycle project also stands outexternal linkmade by a group of Lebanese students who won the competitionexternal link Switzerland – Circular Economy Initiative for Youth in the Middle East. The idea is to offer a sustainable solution for the recycling of plastic bags in Lebanon, by breaking them down into recycled pellets. The project will be carried out with the help of mentors and professors from Swiss universities. “It was exciting to see this group of promising young people commit to their truly extraordinary project and win the competition,” says Dante Larini, project manager at swissnex.external linkwho manages the pavilion with a mobile presence in collaboration with Swiss Presenceexternal link.

The Emirates are not exactly the champions of sustainability and human rights

Behind the scenes, however, the Expo was the subject of much controversy. For example, the ecological footprint of an event of this magnitude in a country that has one of the highest carbon emission rates per inhabitant in the world – ahead of Australia and the United States – and which is already highly dependent on oil and gas exports, which represent 30% of its gross domestic productexternal link. “From my point of view, this is not a zero-sum calculation. To shape our future in a sustainable way and find common solutions, we need platforms where we can meet and exchange ideas. The Expo is the ideal event for this, because it brings together people from different fields,” says Salchli.

To send a strong signal in the direction of sustainability and reduce its environmental impact, the UAE has launched an investment plan with the goal of reaching zero emissions by 2050.

With regard to fundamental rights, the situation in the region is also worrying. Shortly before the opening of the Expo, the European Parliament denounced the serious violations of human rightsexternal link in the Emirates and called on its Member States to boycott the event. A call that no one joined. “As with other major events, Switzerland is committed to promoting and protecting human rights through dialogue and not through boycott,” wrote Léa Zürcher, spokesperson for the Swiss Embassy. in Abu Dhabi, in an email.

The exploitation of foreign labor in the Gulf States has also caused controversy. According to an investigation by The Guardianexternal link, Dubai Expo 2020 staff were likely exposed to high temperatures putting their health at risk while working on the construction site. Asked about this point, the Swiss Embassy assured that it had always demanded and supervised compliance with the rules of hiring and remuneration by its main contractors and subcontractors. “For him, [la embajada] conducted inspections at the Swiss Pavilion construction site and at the accommodations of workers employed by our contractors in December 2019 and March 2020,” Zürcher wrote.

Last October, the Expo updated the death toll to sixexternal link (of approximately 200,000 workers), including deaths related to COVID-19 and work on construction sites. However, the organization refuses to say whether there have been any deaths related to other causes.

Translated from Italian by Carla Wolff

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