BY ETHAN OLSON
Morocco is one of only two countries listed on the Climate Action Tracker as performing in line with the Paris Agreement's goal to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. What makes the North African country a climate leader, and what can we learn from their success? Find out below.
photo by Milad Alizadeh on Unsplash
You may not know much about Morocco, the North African country that sits right below Spain on the world map. The nation is famous for its mint teas, picturesque art deco architecture, and expansive semi-arid landscape. What is less well-known about the country is the fact that, of the 36 nations (and the E.U) listed in the 2020 Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Morocco stands alone with only one other country — The Gambia — in a category that designates performance in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree temperature goal. No other countries on the list — which together account for roughly 80% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — are implementing policies, making pledges, setting targets, or doing their “fair share” to limit Earth’s average temperature from increasing 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In fact, most do not even make the 2 degree cut, with 28 countries (and the E.U as a whole) falling into the insufficient, highly insufficient, or critically insufficient categories. Another common metric of climate change commitments — the Climate Change Performance Index — ranks Morocco behind only two other countries (Sweden and Denmark).
What sets Morocco and The Gambia apart from the rest of the crowd? The Gambia, a relatively tiny country on the West African coast, is home to less than 2.5 million people. It’s progress towards mitigating climate change has been marked by large ecological restoration efforts and impressive shifts towards renewable energy sources, with targets that promise to steadily decrease emissions. The action undertaken by the Gambians is undoubtedly impressive, but the emissions from the country represent only a small sliver of the global total. Morocco meanwhile, a country with almost 15 times the population of The Gambia, provides us with proof that larger countries can also achieve better climate results.
Although Morocco only accounts for 0.2% of global emissions, it is particularly vulnerable to the cataclysmic consequences of climate change. In recent years, the region has experienced upticks in droughts, floods, and heatwaves. Heavy rains are becoming more powerful and inducing floods, while the gaps in between precipitation events are becoming longer in the form of severe droughts. This is bad news for a country where 40% of the workforce is employed in agriculture. Despite holding relatively little power in its ability to directly lower global emissions to a substantial degree, Morocco has veered towards the path of becoming a climate leader in its personal endeavor to curb its own emissions, become less reliant on fossil fuels imports for its energy needs, and adapt to an increasingly volatile climate.
A strong indicator of a nation’s climate change performance, somewhat obviously, is found in the boldness of their targets. Morocco has set forth multiple ambitious goals, as outlined in their intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under the Paris Agreement. These include an unconditional target of reducing GHG emissions by 17% below business-as-usual levels by 2030, and a conditional target of reducing emissions by 42%, contingent on receiving financial support from the international community. The country’s INDC also outlined plans to achieve at least 52% of installed electricity production capacity from renewable sources by 2030, coupled with a reduction of energy consumption by 15% by the same year. The last major goal of Morocco’s INDC — eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels — has already been largely achieved, with diesel, gasoline, and fuel oil subsidies lifted over the past decade.
Morocco is not only impressive in regards to its objectives. The African country has also routinely displayed examples of leadership in global climate change cooperation, hosting the UN Climate Summit in 2016 and being the third African nation to submit its initial INDC for the Paris Agreement. Of all the Arab countries, Morocco leads the charge in transitioning its economy to one powered by renewable resources; no others, save perhaps Egypt, are approaching ambitious performance within the region.
Targets and leadership are important, but actual policy measures and national strategies are what shape a country’s real progress towards mitigating climate change.
Some of Morocco’s boldest initiatives center around meeting energy needs with renewable resources. The goal of obtaining 52% of the country’s power via renewables mentioned above is a part of Morocco’s National Energy Strategy, (which has since been modified to reach beyond this 52% target). This ambition has been supported by massive expansions in wind and solar power. The most notable project in this domain is Noor. Sitting at 6,000 acres, the world’s largest solar farm provides enough energy for 2 million people. Complement this with the Morocco Integrated Wind Energy Program — which helped increase the country’s wind capacity from 280 megawatts in 2010 to 2000 megawatts in 2020 — and the fact that the country is already deriving 35% of its electricity from renewables. Meeting the 52%+ target does not seem far out of reach.
The Noor solar farms provide energy for millions of Moroccans.
Morocco’s commendable performance is accentuated by another interesting fact: it is not a fully developed country. Unlike other high performing nations like Sweden and Denmark, Morocco did not partake in the fossil-fuel powered periods of Western industrialization. Eliciting strong climate contributions from developing countries, historically, has been more challenging than obtaining strong contributions from developed countries. And rightfully so: the developed countries of the world — which includes most of Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, etc. — became wealthy by relying on fossil fuels to power their economies; it seems unfair to bar developing nations from these power sources and the economic advancement they can provide. Morocco goes against the expected route here for a developing nation; instead of offering dissent for limits on fossil fuels, they are independently supporting climate action.
In fact, Morocco is showing the world that economic development and environmental action can be complementary. By focusing on reducing their dependence on fossil fuel imports and implementing sustainable practices in areas such as agriculture, water management, and fishing, Morocco is supporting the creation of a more durable and self-sufficient economy. The country has begun protecting its coastal zones and developing sustainable aquaculture. The Green Morocco Plan, which aims to support the expansion of agriculture as an economic sector, is prioritizing water management by encouraging more water conservation irrigation systems, an important adaptation measure in the face of increasing droughts caused by climate change. And the Adaptation of African Agriculture to Climate Change, or AAA for short, is addressing food insecurity by developing sustainable soil management practices — strengthening Morocco’s capability to continue producing agricultural products for future generations. Other adaptation initiatives include the National Water Strategy and Plan, National Plan for the Protection against Floods, National Action Programme to Combat Desertification, and the National Strategy for the Planning and Development of Oases. Without depending on fossil fuels, Morocco is setting itself up for long-term success by focusing on this sort of sustainable development, protecting the resources its populace and economy rely on.
Morocco, of course, is not perfect. The country’s power sector is still largely reliant on coal (producing over half of its electricity), and new coal fired plants are still slated for construction. Meanwhile, although the country’s emissions targets are in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree temperature goal based on its “historical responsibility and its capability”, this target still allows Morocco’s emissions to increase over the next decade. Emissions reductions from developed countries, which bear more responsibility for historic emissions and possess a higher capacity to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels thanks to the tertiarization of their economies, will need to go beyond minimizing their emissions growth rates. They will need to bend the curve entirely.
Morocco comprises only .46% of the world’s population, and its share of global emissions is even smaller. This however, is no reason to understate the significance of the country’s accomplishments. Morocco is proving that ditching fossil fuels is not only possible — even for developing nations — but also beneficial, particularly when coupled with a focus on sustainability and adaptation measures. The country is steering itself away from foreign energy dependence, and remarkably, may prove itself to be an energy provider to countries in Europe and Africa. By doing so, it is tearing down the fiction that economic growth and fossil fuels are inescapably bound to one another. With creativity and strategic decision-making, cooperation and innovation, the countries of the world can strengthen themselves and protect the climate by giving up fossil fuels.
There are other options out there. Just look at Morocco.