FUTURE ENERGY

Kazakhstan 2017 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Rapil Zhoshybayev, Commissioner of Expo 2017, on global interest in the Expo, the event's focus on renewable energy, and its long-term impact on tourism in Kazakhstan.

How would you describe the enthusiasm for Expo from people both locally and abroad, in particular for the future energy theme?

When we were trying to attract countries, for example certain countries in Africa, some of them did not know where Kazakhstan was located, though they knew our president Nursultan Nazarbayev, which was interesting. The theme of future energy was popular and many developed countries are now putting forward their programs to switch to green economy and concepts to increase the share of renewable and alternative energy in their total consumption. Developing countries are also working in this direction; however, there are some countries where some villages have no electricity or perhaps do not have a television or refrigerator. Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are now also significantly investing in solar power and are working in this direction.

What differences do you see in terms of the interest from developing countries versus developed ones?

The technology in green energy is currently quite expensive and if we are to develop these technologies in developing countries we should have the assistance of such organizations as the World Bank. Many other financial institutions are now investing in developing countries and technologies are being developed every day so prices are falling. We visited an island in the Maldives that is fully powered by solar power; it took a loan from the World Bank and built all the facilities on the island. We conducted excursions there; it even uses waste to generate power. We invited it to showcase all this technology to other countries. We also visited the Vatican, which will participate in Expo 2017—100% of the energy needs of the Vatican is supplied through solar panels.

How will Expo change the global reputation of Kazakhstan as a green energy country?

Kazakhstan has initiatives to transition to green technologies and green economies that were initiated by our president during the UN summit in South Africa. We initiated this concept on transitioning to green energy and the Green Bridge program, and many countries subsequently joined this initiative. We also want to develop innovations and technologies in Kazakhstan; the Ministry of Energy has announced a competition of start-ups in this field. A total of 1,000 companies, including 100 Kazakhstani companies and many others from overseas, will participate. We also have a pavilion called Best Practices that will include projects developed in different countries, including companies from Silicon Valley. We are tasked by President Nazarbayev to establish a center of green technologies and investment projects under the UN agencies and after Expo this center will be located in the Kazakhstan pavilion . It will deal with the new technologies in this field of green economy and green technologies and also attract investments in this direction. Even now we have made great progress and have set up solar panels and wind turbines in different regions and in the future plan to use safe nuclear power stations. This will give an impetus to Kazakhstan and the entire Central Asia region.

What will eventually happen to the iconic building that is being used for Expo 2017?

When we were planning the construction of the facilities we attempted to meet all the requirements of green technology for the buildings. We have solar panels and the turbine in this pavilion and also met all the requirements to use local construction materials. Expo will give us the chance to attract new technologies. The decision to establish the Astana International Financial Center based on the premises of Expo 2017 is also great because it helps to attract investment and make Astana the financial hub of Central Asia. We learnt a great deal from the experience of Dubai; before the Dubai Financial Center was established we saw that growth was 5 or 6% a year but after the center was established, growth was 12% a year. We view this as a striking example and a great experience for us to use.

What is your vision on the long-term impact Expo will have on making Kazakhstan a tourist destination and on the overall economy?

Expo is a locomotive for many sectors, including tourism; in addition, we will use new materials, standards, and technologies and this will develop our logistics and transport. We are currently constructing a new terminal at the airport as well as a new railway station; we have also launched an LRT, which is a new mode of transport in our country. All these initiatives will create new jobs. When the AIFC is established, all the high-end restaurants operating during Expo 2017 will be in the financial center. The pavilion will also include a museum of future energy that will cooperate with another university and thus develop the economy, science, and technologies. All these will make the AIFC a center of green technologies and investment projects and attract tourists. For Expo we expect 2 million tourists and about 5 million visits in total. About 85% of the visitors will be from Kazakhstan and 15% will be foreign visitors, mainly from neighboring countries such as Russia, China, and Central Asian countries. We are also working to relax our visa regime. Last year we introduced a visa-free regime for 20 developed countries for up to 15 days. From January 2017 there will be a visa-free regime for all OECD countries plus the UAE, Monaco, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, and Bulgaria—approximately 40 countries—for up to 30 days. We are not only working to open our doors to foreign countries and subsequently for them to facilitate a visa free regime for our citizens, we are also launching new air flights and increasing the frequency of flights between our countries.