Morocco proclaims itself a “model country” for green energy despite domestic concerns that the country may not be on track to reach its sustainability goals.
Rabat — Morocco highlighted its dedication to environmental protection and sustainability at the 2021 convention of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) early last week, remaining committed to global cooperation “in the name of a green world.”
Aziz Rabbah, Morocco’s Minister of Energy, Mines, and Environment, took part in the UNEA’s virtual fifth session on February 22 and 23 alongside envoys from over 100 other countries.
The theme of the conference was “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Morocco is a “model country” for green energy
Rabbah showcased Morocco’s noteworthy environmental progress before the Assembly, specifically the adoption of the country’s National Strategy for Sustainable Development in 2017. The policy boasts a comprehensive plan to propel Morocco to a “green economy” by 2030 through targeted investments, subsidies, and reforms.
Per Rabbah’s remarks, Morocco remains heavily focused on environmental sustainability and the transition to green energy.
“Morocco has made real advances in the durability of our energy sector under the instruction of King Mohammed VI,” Rabbah claimed, “making Morocco a model country at a local and global level.”
Rabbah pointed to an “ambitious national strategy” that hinges on regional integration and reinforcement of renewable energy resources.
Many have pointed to Morocco as a key player in North Africa’s growing trend towards renewable energy, per the country’s extensive investments in wind, solar, and hydropower.
Ghalia Mokhtari, a climate and energy specialist at the Moroccan Institute of Strategic Intelligence, dubbed Morocco a “green energy bridge between Europe and Africa,” pointing to the country’s ambitious plan to produce 52% of consumed energy through renewable sources by 2030.
Morocco is also committed to offsetting its environmental footprint during this transition period. To protect its citizens from the effects of climate change, Morocco plans to invest around $35 billion over the next decade in climate-vulnerable industries including water, agriculture, and forestry.
Morocco’s “environmentally disastrous” pipeline project
However, while Morocco boasts lofty sustainability goals on the world stage, some environmental advocates are concerned about the feasibility and legitimacy of the country’s plans without major philosophy changes.
Just three weeks before Rabbah touted Morocco’s resolute devotion to renewable energy, King Mohammed VI reaffirmed plans to establish one of the longest oil pipelines in the world over the next 25 years via phone conversation with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Morocco-Nigeria gas pipeline (MNGP) will stretch over 5,000 kilometers along the coast of West Africa, connecting Nigerian crude oil and natural gas reserves with consumers in Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco, and eventually Spain.
Critics fear the project will facilitate increased usage of non-renewable energy sources, including fossil fuels and petroleum, in both patron and recipient economies.
In 2018, 40 NGOs signed a joint letter pleading with the countries involved to abandon the project. The letter cited numerous environmental, social, and economic concerns, including an “increase of extraction and consumption of fossil resources.”
The letter corroborated that the project’s environmental ramifications are in “complete contrast” with Morocco’s goal of producing over half of its energy through renewable sources by the end of the decade.
Findings indicate the MNGP’s potential environmental impacts, in addition to the risk of chemical waste and potential leaks on fisheries, could upend the livelihoods of millions of people across West Africa.
These consequences may be even more severe within Morocco. The proposed path for the pipeline stretches alongside numerous Moroccan coastal communities that rely heavily on fishing and tourism for their livelihoods: Industries that could be crippled by gas leaks or spillage.
Fishing communities within Nigeria have faced similar challenges with the presence of existing pipelines.
In Ikarama-Okordia, a village of 50,000 in southern Nigeria, residents recorded over 20 pipeline spills between 2009 and 2018, decimating arable land and crop yields along the coast.
“The soil has become infertile because of the spills,” explained a local resident. “Each time I remember the spills and now the floods, my heart bleeds.”
It is difficult to rectify Morocco’s self-proclaimed robust commitment to green energy with the construction of a pipeline some have dubbed an “environmental disaster.”
Morocco’s lackluster regulatory mechanisms
Other pundits fear Morocco will come up short of its ambitious sustainability goals without a major environmental regulatory overhaul.
While Morocco’s extensive government investments in sustainable energy are a noteworthy step in the right direction, some argue Morocco isn’t cracking down hard enough on private-sector use of gas and fossil fuels.
A report from the Oxford Business Group (OBG) notes the Moroccan energy sector’s “promising medium-term growth” but warns that “upgrades to the sector’s regulatory framework will need to be completed” if Morocco is to reach its 52% renewables benchmark by 2030.
“In order for these projects to run smoothly and to attract further investment in the up, the country will need to ensure that a robust regulatory framework is in place for the use of gas by both the power sector and industrial clients,” OBG finds.
Taoufik Laabi, who runs Casablanca-based energy consultancy Glob Energy Conseil, agrees that Morocco may be falling short of its environmental goals and desired sustainability trajectory.
“The biggest challenge will be reaching the goal of 52% renewables on the grid by 2030,” Laabi affirmed. “Not only will the pace of existing projects need to be accelerated, but additional medium-sized projects will need to be developed alongside an updated regulatory framework.”
The Moroccan people and sustainability
The Moroccan public’s perspectives on sustainability and climate change have changed significantly in recent years, according to recent figures.
A recent United Nations survey found that 68% of Moroccans accept the reality of climate change, and over half indicated the necessity of taking urgent measures to mitigate its consequences.
These figures rank Morocco 10th in climate concern among the 50 countries surveyed in the “largest survey of public opinion on climate change ever conducted.”
Morocco beat out both the United States and Algeria, where 65% of citizens reported acknowledgment of climate change.
While detractors have long pointed to Morocco’s trash and litter dilemma as proof that Moroccans are disinterested in sustainability, recent reports indicate the problem may have more to do with infrastructural failures than public contempt.
Public disposal sites are generally few and far between in Morocco but become even scarcer in the country’s most low-income neighborhoods.
“While progress has been slow, areas with potential for development include controlled landfills, sorting and valorization of waste through recycling, composting and energy generation,” OBG found. “However, these issues can be overcome, as illustrated by the variety of solutions deployed on the ground.”
In 2008, Morocco adopted a National Strategy for Waste Management, a comprehensive policy plan to achieve a nationwide professional waste collection rate of 100% by 2030.
The program also seeks to construct consolidated landfills in all of Morocco’s major cities, extend household waste-management master plans to all the country’s municipalities, and educate Moroccans on the importance of recycling and reuse.
This awareness is furthered by Morocco’s growing social media trends towards recycling and sustainable waste management.
Last August, Moroccan social media influencer and environmentalist Saad Abid led Casablanca locals on educational tours of the city’s recycling plants, answering questions about the recycling process and furthering understanding of its importance.
Abid later posted footage from these tours to his Instagram count, which boasts a reach of over 117,000.
In the meantime, many of Morocco’s cultural practices implicitly lend themselves to everyday sustainability.
The prevalence of public hammams and Turkish toilets cuts down on communal water usage, while Morocco’s transportation culture centered on public transport and foot travel mitigates gas waste.
Morocco’s souks are also home to a unique unspoken recycling system. Water bottles and jugs are repurposed to store and sell oil, juice, or sauces, and discarded papers are reused to package small servings of nuts, dried fruits, candies, and spices.
Even when trash does end up piled in landfills, Morocco continues to seek innovative solutions to waste management.
In 2017, the managers of Rabat’s Oum Azza waste management site — the country’s largest landfill facility — transformed the complex into a one-of-a-kind recycling cooperative.
Men and women are paid 2,260 MAD ($250 USD) per month to pick out and sort recyclables and resellable waste. The ambitious program offers employees health insurance, access to a bank account, and low-interest mortgages.
Oum Azza wants to take the stigma and danger out of Morocco’s scavenging industry while improving environmental sustainability: The facility offers workers safer conditions while turning an estimated 100,000 tons of recyclable waste annually.
“What Morocco is doing is exemplary. They are looking at waste as a resource rather than trash,” said Maria Sarraf, a lead environmental economist at the World Bank. “Combining recycling, value chains, and jobs is a good recipe to make the dump story a success story.”