EXPO 2017, OIC and its first ever Summit on Science and Technology

Science – and the practical technological developments that spring from advances in knowledge – affect every moment of our lives. They are the reasons we live longer and healthier, are more prosperous and have more opportunities than previous generations. Science has transformed our lives for the better.

We should be grateful, too, that the pace of scientific advances is not slowing down. We are depending on science to find the solutions to many of our most pressing global problems.

Look, for example, at the challenge of climate change. It’s thanks to science that we are aware of worrying changes in our atmosphere and the impact on our climate and societies now and in the future. We have seen these warnings realised in the devastating flooding in Bangladesh and the southern United States in the last few days. But we are also relying on science to help us find solutions to this increasing climate crisis.

It is, of course, important that countries collectively and individually act to reduce the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. But we also need to develop technology, which will help us mitigate and adapt to the climate change underway. And it is as critical that all these steps are taken while allowing countries to continue to grow their economies and improve living standards.

Some of these answers like generating more electricity from solar and wind power rather than fossil fuels are already well known. But if we are to maximise the benefits of such green energy sources, there is still a great deal of work to do. We need to find ways, for example, of storing efficiently the power generated when the sun shines and wind blows.

The switch to renewable and sustainable energy sources is, of course, the central theme of EXPO 2017 which is now entering its final days. It put science and technology centre stage, showcasing the latest developments in the area of future energy and identifying areas where we need to make faster progress.

It also fascinated and thrilled the millions of visitors to the exhibition site and its many pavilions. We won’t know the final figures until sometime after EXPO17 finally closes its doors, but it looks as if it will have attracted approximately four million people over the summer. Surveys have shown that they have overwhelmingly enjoyed what they have seen and experienced.

Not surprisingly, most of those attending have come from Kazakhstan but there have, as anyone living in Astana has noticed, a steady stream of visitors from far further afield. As well as the physical legacy that EXPO 2017 has been designed from the start to leave behind, one of its intangible impacts will be helping to put Kazakhstan more firmly on the global tourist map.

The main long-term aim of the exhibition was, however, to share knowledge about science and forge partnerships to accelerate advances in the future. There are plenty of signs that the exhibition has already encouraged such developments. And it is this same spirit which lies behind the hosting of the first Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit on Science and Technology in Astana next week.

This first summit is an important development for an organisation that is growing in global importance. It will decisively push science, innovation and education up the OIC’s agenda, which is key to modernising economies and meeting the needs of its 1.5 billion citizens. There is massive scope for increased cooperation in science and technology, which will not only benefit individual member countries but the world as a whole.

The summit will also provide a powerful answer to those few voices who try to suggest that somehow Islam is against science and education. It is a distorted and backward view which anchors Islam in the past and ignores the extraordinary contribution of Islamic science to the world.

It was, after all, Islamic scholars, physicians, mathematicians and scientists who kept the light of learning burning when Europe was trapped in the Dark Ages. And today, scientists from Islamic countries continue to play a key role in advances in knowledge in every continent and in every field. These contributions should be celebrated and encouraged to make our world a healthier, more prosperous and peaceful place.