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Morocco leads the way in building a sustainable future

Low water levels are visible around the Todgha dam near Tinghir, Morocco. (AP)
Low water levels are visible around the Todgha dam near Tinghir, Morocco. (AP)
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11 Jun 2023 06:06:37 GMT9
11 Jun 2023 06:06:37 GMT9

Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing global challenges of our time, posing significant threats to ecosystems, economies and human well-being. Its impacts are expected to worsen existing vulnerabilities, especially in developing countries, leading to increased poverty, food insecurity and displacement. As global temperatures continue to rise, it is imperative that nations worldwide collaborate and take decisive action to mitigate and adapt to the warming planet.

Morocco has emerged as a surprising frontrunner in sustainable development strategies that center around the mitigation of climate risks. The country recognizes its vulnerability to climate-change impacts and has taken proactive steps to transition to a green economy. Morocco has also set ambitious goals, striving to generate more than half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. With initiatives such as the Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex, Morocco is demonstrating its commitment to clean energy and setting an example for other nations to follow.

Addressing climate change is a particularly urgent priority for Morocco. Its vulnerability to various natural hazards, such as floods, droughts and heat waves is well-documented, putting more pressure on Morocco’s limited natural resources. Rising temperatures pose a significant threat to Morocco’s economy and society, primarily through impacts on agriculture, scarce water resources and worsening desertification. The latter, for instance, could lead to a decline in fertile land and exacerbates water scarcity. This, in turn, can result in the displacement of rural populations, increased poverty and heightened social inequalities.

Meanwhile, water shortages are expected to intensify in the coming years, especially in the south, and agriculture — a vital sector contributing 13 percent to Morocco’s GDP — is also at risk due to climate variability and change, with droughts affecting cereal yields by 60 percent. The agricultural sector, when combined with fishing and forestry industries, employs nearly a third of the country’s workforce, necessitating its insulation from further climate-induced shocks.

Morocco’s dependence on imported fossil fuels has been another cause for concern, beyond merely complicating its plans to reduce its emissions footprint. The North African country must also bolster its energy security while simultaneously accelerating its sustainable development. In contrast to neighboring countries such as Algeria and Libya, which are major oil and gas producers, Morocco has limited domestic energy resources and relies heavily on imports to meet its energy needs.

This reliance on imported fossil fuels puts Morocco at a disadvantage when it comes to its energy security and sustainable development compared to its resource-rich neighbors. This dependence on imported fossil fuels makes Morocco more susceptible to global market fluctuations, as it is vulnerable to price and supply shocks. Relying on fossil fuels also hinders the country’s transition to a sustainable future, as it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbates the impacts of climate change.

Given these challenges, Morocco has charted a path toward mitigation and adaptation, ensuring a more resilient, sustainable future for its population. Morocco’s proactive approach to transitioning, as demonstrated by the country’s “Plan Vert,” is quickly becoming an important example of how peer nations can feasibly transform their economies and societies without sidelining development goals. Continued investment, trade and climate-focused engagement will further propel Morocco to overcome hurdles and lead the way in the planet’s fight to limit rising temperatures.

Morocco’s ambitious renewable energy targets are already paving the way for a greener future. The country has committed to adding 10 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity between 2018 and 2030, consisting of 4,560 megawatts (MW) of solar and 4,200 MW of wind power. These targets are part of a broader plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent and increase renewable power capacity to more than 50 percent by 2030. To achieve these goals, Morocco has been successful in attracting international investment, with key players such as ACWA Power, Aries and TSK partnering with the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy, or Masen, to develop these projects.

By increasing renewable energy capacity, Morocco can achieve greater energy independence and reduce vulnerability to disruptions.

Hafed Al-Ghwell

The resulting achievements in solar and wind energy by Morocco are truly impressive. The Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex, with a combined capacity of about 580MW, is the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant. This complex plays a crucial role in providing clean energy, offsetting more than 770,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. In addition, Morocco boasts the Tarfaya Wind Farm, one of the largest wind farms in Africa, which produces roughly 325MW. These projects, and the many to come, exemplify the North African country’s push to accelerate renewable energy development, a critical component of the green economies of the future.

The positive impact of Morocco’s renewable energy initiatives on its economy and energy security is undeniable. First, the renewable energy sector has significant job creation potential, with the Solar Complex alone generating about 1,000 construction jobs and 60 permanent jobs during its operation and maintenance phases.

Second, these projects help to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, as 90 percent of its energy is currently imported. By increasing renewable energy capacity, Morocco can achieve greater energy independence and reduce vulnerability to disruptions. Lastly, there is export potential for Morocco’s renewable energy. As the country continues to develop its renewable energy infrastructure, it may be able to export clean energy to neighboring countries, further bolstering its economy and solidifying its position as a green leader in this part of the world.

Besides ambitions to “export the sun,” Morocco has been implementing robust water management strategies as part of its adaptation strategies. It has invested in desalination, such as the Agadir plant, which produces 275,000 cubic meters of water a day. This initiative not only tackles water scarcity but also provides clean water for agricultural purposes, helping to secure the livelihoods of local communities. Additionally, Morocco has been working on improving wastewater treatment infrastructure to combat water pollution and reuse treated water for irrigation. The country’s National Liquid Sanitation Program aims to increase wastewater treatment coverage to 60 percent by 2030.

Elsewhere, Morocco is actively engaged in reforestation efforts as a climate-change adaptation strategy. The country’s High Atlas Reforestation Project aims to restore degraded lands, combat desertification and preserve biodiversity. By planting native tree species, Morocco is enhancing the resilience of local ecosystems and preventing soil erosion. Furthermore, Morocco’s commitment to the Bonn Challenge — a global effort to restore 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2030 — underscores its dedication to reforestation and biodiversity conservation. Morocco aims to restore 1 million hectares of land by 2030, which will be a significant contribution to this global objective.

Beyond its borders, Morocco continues to play a significant role in advancing renewable energy across Africa, notably through its involvement in the African Renewable Energy Initiative, or AREI. Launched in 2015, AREI aims to develop at least 10GW of new renewable energy generation capacity on the continent and to mobilize financial support for African countries to transition to sustainable energy systems.

In addition to its contributions to AREI, Morocco has forged strong partnerships with other North African countries to share knowledge and resources. The country has collaborated with Tunisia and Egypt on various renewable energy projects, including the establishment of a joint research center for solar and wind energy technologies. Furthermore, Morocco is tipped as a major contributor in collaborations between European and North African countries to develop renewable energy projects across the region and export clean electricity to Europe.

As the world grapples with the urgent need to address climate change, Morocco’s leadership in fostering regional cooperation and championing global climate action serves as an inspiring example for other nations. Continued collaboration at both regional and global levels is essential for achieving the ambitious goals set forth in the Paris Agreement and ensuring a sustainable future for all.

Countries around the world should look to Morocco as a model for how bold action and collaboration can drive meaningful progress in the fight against climate change. By embracing renewable energy, forging partnerships and advocating for robust climate policies, Morocco has demonstrated that it is possible to achieve a greener and more sustainable future, and that other nations can follow suit.

• Hafed Al-Ghwell is a senior fellow and executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Strategic Initiative at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, and the former adviser to the dean of the board of executive directors of the World Bank Group.

Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell

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