Anet McClintock | Middle East & North Africa Fellow
About 200-kilometres south-east of Marrakesh, among the barren Moroccan dunes of the Sahara Desert, lies one the greatest engineering feats of our time: the Noor Solar Power Plant, the world’s largest solar farm. Noor نور, Arabic for light, is an apt description for a region that receives 330 days of sunlight a year. The 200 football-fields-worth of solar panels are providing electricity to half a million Moroccans, with plans to power the rest of the region too, by exporting electricity to Africa and Europe.
Apart from being an engineering feat, the Noor solar power plant is emblematic of the enormous strides that Morocco is making with addressing climate action. According to the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), Morocco was the third-best performing country in the world, and the best performing developing country (Australia came 56th, just before Iran). The country also has some of the most visionary climate policies of any nation in the world, largely due to ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement that would see Morocco’s emissions stay well below the amount needed to prevent a rise of 1.5 degrees in the global temperature.
Looking at Morocco’s CCPI scorecard can give some indication as to how the country is performing so well. The country ranks ‘High’ on all but one of the indicators. Although most of Morocco’s current energy usage comes from imported coal and oil, the country has pledged to make more than 52 per cent of all energy sources renewable by 2050.
Perhaps even more impactful is the country’s Plan Maroc Vert–otherwise known as the Moroccan Green Deal. The deal focuses primarily on the agricultural sector which employs more than 40 per cent of the country’s citizens. The plan has yielded impressive results–malnourishment in regional Morocco has fallen to under five per cent, and agricultural exports have increased by more than thirty per cent since the plan was introduced in 2008. The plan has also meant that Morocco has met its Millennium Development Goals two years early.
Many of these developments have benefited from a strong and decisive government. In 2011, while the Arab Spring was washing across the region, Morocco’s government quietly and unremarkably moved to a system of constitutional monarchy. While the trust in government is still relatively low, the country is certainly making incremental progress towards democracy and liberty. One doesn’t have to look hard and long to see that democratisation and climate justice went hand-in-hand in this instance.
Learning from Morocco
Although the Middle East and North Africa is often touted as an ‘energy rich’ region, this is not the case for most countries outside of the Gulf States, Iran, and Iraq, who are classified as net-importer countries. Their economies are highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the market, particularly due to conflict. Combined with this volatility are the stresses due to rapid population growth.
For these governments, renewable energy needs to be espoused not only as an energy source, but as a way to ensure stability, national security, and energy accessibility that invests in local markets and jobs. In the next 23 years, the renewable energy sector in Morocco could create up to 500,000 sustainable and ongoing jobs for Moroccans.
In addition to creating new sectors, Morocco is also an example of how holistic climate policy also needs to assess how existing industries can be improved. Plan Maroc Vert focuses primarily on how to support and expand the country’s agricultural sector, while simultaneously mitigating 67 million tonnes of CO2. This is particularly pertinent for other agricultural-reliant economies in the region such as Egypt, Mauritania and Sudan.
Morocco has been described as “something of an exemplar among the countries of North Africa for its commitment to political, economic and social reforms” and it is no different when it comes to climate policy. Morocco’s ambitious march toward energy security powered by renewables, the careful consideration of existing agricultural industries, and a stable government that invites international investment should be an exemplar of what is possible for developing Middle East and North Africa countries regarding climate justice.
The Moroccan model shows what can be attainable for countries heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and that these countries do not have to resign to their fate as greenhouse gas dependent economies. As the region faces two substantial problems of the sharpest population increases and the worst effects of climate change, the international community has a responsibility to ensure the region has the greatest chance for success by investing in measures with proven success such as those demonstrated in Morocco. The future of the region, and the world, depends on it.
Anet McClintock is the Middle East & North Africa Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.