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COP22: Here comes the sun

The Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, 12.5 miles outside Ouarzazate The Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, 12.5 miles outside Ouarzazate Fadel Senna / AFP / Getty Images
07 Nov
Last year, the UNFCCC Paris Agreement was hailed as ‘historic’ after its signing at COP21 in Paris. Today sees attendees to COP22 convening in Morocco, a country where transitioning to renewable energy has become a primary national objective

This year, the UN Climate Change Conference, COP22, moves to Marrakech in Morocco, where a National Energy Strategy enshrined into law in 2009 set a target of achieving 42 per cent installed renewable energy capacity by 2020. Last year, feeling even more ambitious, they further extended the goal to achieving 52 per cent by 2030.

‘This would lead to a significant decrease in the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, compared to the business-as-usual trajectory,’ explains Boris Schinke, Senior Advisor on Energy and Development for Germanwatch, publisher of the annual Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI). Morocco was placed an impressive tenth in the world in the 2016 CCPI, behind only Denmark, the UK, Sweden, Belgium, France and Cyprus (the top three slots remained empty, a symbolic indicator of the need for all countries to be more ambitious).

The whole idea behind the energy strategy is to build up new job opportunities for the population

Projects to achieve this goal include developing the world’s largest concentrated solar farm in Ouarzazate, which will eventually add up to 580MW of installed solar capacity, capable of providing electricity for more than one million Moroccans, as well as the 301MW Tarfaya wind farm, the largest in Africa. ‘Morocco really goes big,’ emphasises Schinke. ‘One of the main success stories is the engagement in rural electrification. In 1995, only 18 per cent of the population had access to electricity; this has increased to almost 100 per cent. It’s achieved this by expanding the grid and implementing decentralised solar systems.’ This includes the ‘Green Mosques’ program, converting all of Morocco’s 15,000 mosques to solar power.

The driving force behind this renewable vision is Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, who spoke passionately to world leaders in Paris last year about ‘the devastating effects of global warming on the planet and of the urgent need to match words with deeds’. Morocco is especially susceptible to climate change, with intense droughts, desertification, and shrinking water tables. Yet Schinke argues that the primary purpose behind the ambitious energy strategy is less on reducing emissions, and more as a development tool. ‘Morocco is very dependent on foreign energy imports; up to 97 per cent of its energy mix comes from foreign sources,’ he explains. ‘By increasing the renewable capacities, it envisions decreasing its energy import dependency, and at the same time creating local value chains in the wind and solar industries. This is the whole idea behind the energy strategy – to build up new job opportunities for the population.’

This was published in the November 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

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