Riyadh, Busan or Rome? Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Italy, all three of which say they are carrying out green projects with high technological value, each hope to be awarded the 2030 Universal Exhibition on Tuesday, a guarantee of prestige and accelerated development. The event, which will attract millions of visitors, has been the subject of intense lobbying by the three candidates for months. During the presentation of the files last June in Paris, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the South Korean President and the Italian Prime Minister were present.
Universal exhibitions, these “mega events” understood “as a machine to drive growth and strengthen influence”, make it possible to forge an international “political image”, estimates sociologist Patrick le Galès, research director at the CNRS and at Sciences Po. The International Exhibition Bureau (BIE) must determine the lucky winner this Tuesday afternoon during a secret ballot.
The Saudi candidacy, the most controversial, boasts "world-class natural landscapes", "the most sustainable exposure", "the first carbon-negative exposure", in a country that is nevertheless arid, among the leading oil producers in the world. and one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita. “Large-scale greenwashing”, observes Mr. le Galès, for whom this type of event serves above all to “valorize the established elites”.
“If Saudi Arabia wins, MBS (Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, editor's note) will be very happy. This will validate his strategy” of promoting the country through major events, he continues, Saudi Arabia being also well on its way to hosting the 2034 Football World Cup.
But 15 human rights NGOs called last Tuesday on the 179 member states of the IBE to “not vote” for Riyadh: “by offering a global platform to a regime that has a history of violating fundamental human rights (.. .), the international community risks sending a tacit message that such actions are acceptable,” they believe.
Another candidate for Expo-2030, Busan, of which the South Korean president is a fervent supporter. Yoon Suk Yeol guaranteed “the best World Expo ever” in June. He went to Paris again in recent days to support this project. The South Korean team promotes a “harmony of nature, humanity, technology”, “a platform of ideals for future generations” built on a former industrial port of Busan transformed into a “sustainable living place”, where small islets floating will also be built.
“Expo-2030 is an opportunity to truly put South Korea at the center of the world, a “dynamic” state that “seeks to assert itself,” translates sociologist Patrick le Galès.
Italy wants to “bring history and the future together” in Rome, “the first megalopolis in history”, where the “largest urban solar park in the world” would be built for the occasion, said in June his Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni before the BIE. Rome aspires to “redo the Milan coup”, where the 2015 Universal Exhibition attracted 20 million visitors and gave a boost to the Lombard capital, observes Mr. Galès. In addition, “there is still a lot of major work to be done in Rome, so they are probably saying that having a major event is also an opportunity to finance this urban renovation work,” he notes.
Universal exhibitions are held every five years and last a maximum of six months. They allow the chosen country to “show itself to the world”, while being “a laboratory for architects”, estimated in April 2022, Dimitri Kerkentzes, secretary general of the BIE on TV5 Monde.
For example, the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris for the Universal Exhibition of 1889, as were the Atomium and the Space Needle, symbolic structures of Brussels and Seattle (United States), the were for those of 1958 and 1962. The latest, in Dubai which was held between October 2021 and March 2022, recorded 24 million visitors. The 2025 event will take place in Osaka, Japan.
The first World's Fair was held in 1851 in London. Many inventions that have become everyday amenities have since been presented there, including the telephone, corded then portable, television, popcorn, ketchup and even the first ice cream cone.