Interview, News|

'Expo 2020 offers an exciting opportunity to collaborate, and in the Netherlands Pavilion our efforts on uniting water, energy and food will come together.’

Hans Sandee, Commissioner-General for the Netherlands’ participation in Expo 2020 Dubai, looks back on the past year and the preparations for Expo 2020 Dubai. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Expo was postponed for a year. He will also look ahead to the milestones in the run-up to the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai on 1 October 2021.

2020 has been an unprecedented year for companies and Expo. How do you look back on the past year?
Looking back, no one could have foreseen the events of 2020. We thought it was going to be a special year because of Expo coming up, but it became an extraordinary year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020 kicked off with a signing ceremony with our national partner Shell during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. The energy transition plays a vital role in building a sustainable future, so we look forward to working with Shell in the Netherlands Pavilion.

Over the course of the year, we proudly welcomed more sponsors and partners of the pavilion, including Meever & Meever, Bom Group, Holland Water and Fourleaf, the creative design agency that developed our brand-new website. We’re happy that, even in these uncertain times, innovative companies in the fields of water, energy and food are keen to collaborate with us and contribute to the Netherlands Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The Netherlands supported the proposal for postponement. Can you explain that decision?
Within weeks, COVID-19 started to have an enormous impact worldwide. We were forced to take a step back and analyse the situation. Suddenly, the feasibility of holding mega events like Expo 2020 became an issue of debate and reconsideration. In May, together with the other member states of the Bureau International des Expositions, we voted to postpone Expo 2020 Dubai, which enabled participating countries and companies to focus on tackling COVID-19 and the pandemic’s social and economic fallout. Expo 2020 Dubai will now take place from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. As COVID-19 is still a big part of our daily lives, we expect it to impact on the scale of the event. We also expect that the participation of the Netherlands will have a virtual component as well as an on-site business component.

Does this decision change anything about the Dutch participation?
Expo 2020 will be one of the first major global events after the coronavirus crisis. We’re still as thrilled and excited as we were before. During the postponement we had full commitment from the Dutch businesses and organisations involved, as well as the Dutch Dubai partners. This is clear when you look at the great milestones we achieved last year. Together, they reflect undiminished enthusiasm for Expo.

We’ve welcomed new contributions to the Pavilion from three innovative enterprises: Buro BELÉN’s 26-metre bio-textile curtain, Marjan van Aubel Studio’s solar roof design, and the floor and wall of the lounge area will be made of a new bio-based building materials made of mycelium by the Italian company Mogu. It also gave me great pleasure to welcome two new Expo Champions in the field of Food & Energy. As Expo Champions, they will inspire and inform Dutch companies about the opportunities that the Gulf region and Expo 2020 offer. Our multi-year theme in the Gulf region is uniting water, energy and food – a theme that addresses 11 of the 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals, underscoring that all of this is more relevant than ever. We need to work together to overcome this crisis but also to build a more sustainable planet. This is where the Netherlands is keen to contribute, by working together and by sharing knowledge. We’ve been doing this in the Gulf region for years, and we will continue these efforts.

The Pavilion is currently 80% complete, what are the building plans for 2021?
The Pavilion was 80% complete last summer. Because of the high value we place on sustainability, which is also key to the Pavilion’s design, we’ve decided to take a break in the construction of the Pavilion and avoid unnecessary consumption of electricity for cooling and other services. From March 2021, we will start completing the interior of the building, installing technical systems and setting up the innovative Dutch solutions in the Pavilion. In addition, the grounds will be landscaped and the plants that will grow in the Pavilion will be brought in. Audiovisual equipment for the visitors’ show will also be installed. Another positive secondary effect of our circular approach is that, by resuming in March 2021, we can ensure that the Pavilion will be in peak condition and brand-new for the opening on 1 October 2021.

What will 2021 bring us when it comes to Expo and the Netherlands’ participation?
Expo 2020 will be one of the first global events after COVID-19. This major health crisis has made us acutely aware that the challenges of today demand closer collaboration between nations to develop sustainable solutions. Expo 2020 offers an exciting opportunity to collaborate, and in the Netherlands Pavilion our efforts on uniting water, energy and food will come together.

Before the kick off we have to reach some important milestones, starting with our digital trade mission to the UAE in March 2021, with a focus on water, energy, food and e-health. The digital Expo sessions are on the agenda, our ‘road to Expo’ campaign and new sponsors are on the horizon. So there are a lot of exciting moments to look forward to in 2021!


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