En route to Marrakech: From the Atlas mountains to the Atlantic Ocean

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Travelling in a pick-up truck loaded with butane gas containers

Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP student Oliver Schmidt is attending the UN Climate Change conference (COP22) this week. He shares his impression of the host country Morocco and how it may be affected by climate change.

Before the “action” COP officially kicked off in Marrakech on Monday, I travelled to the Kingdom of Morocco to get a personal perspective of this year’s host country and the ability of the local population to act against climate change.

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Morocco (left) and Oliver’s route around the High Atlas, the Souss Valley and along the Atlantic coast (right).

Morocco is an influential member of the Arab League and Africa’s fifth largest economy. With a population of just below 34 million and greenhouse gas emissions of 94MtCO2eq (2010), it is well below the largest emitters (69th in absolute emissions, and 159th relative to its population size). However, the country’s electricity production is heavily dependent on oil and coal with 96%  imported. Thus, Morocco proposed to contribute the following to the Paris climate change agreement:

“Reduce greenhouse gas emission by 32% by 2030 compared to ‘business as usual’, of which 19% is conditional on international support through new climate finance mechanisms”

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An advert for solar heating

With a focus on the transformation of the energy sector by:

  • Exceeding 50% of installed electricity capacity from renewable sources by 2025
  • Reducing energy consumption by 15% by 2030
  • Substantially reducing fossil fuel subsidies
  • Substantially increasing the use of natural gas, through infrastructure projects allowing liquefied natural gas imports

The dependence of these targets on international support through new climate finance mechanisms  reflects a key theme of this year’s COP: how to provide the finance for combating climate change. This issue is also covered by Imperial College London’s official side-event “Investing in the planet: Green banks and other financial tools to scale up mitigation technologies”.

Facing climate change on the ground

On my journey, I wanted to take a look beyond these “high-level” issues, to meet the locals and see for myself whether they are affected by climate change and what actions they can take right now to tackle it.

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Taccheddirt village

On the first day, I travelled to the High Atlas to trek from picturesque Tacheddirt via the Tizi n’Tacheddirt pass to remote Timichi. These villages, inhabited by the Berber population, are particularly at risk from climate change with prospects of 4-6°C warming and 20-60% less precipitation by the end of the century (El Jihad, 2016). At the same time, the inhabitants contribute little to greenhouse gas emissions with a lifestyle that draws on local produce, minimal waste production, reasonable meat consumption and minimal energy use (sleeping in 0°C at night, I can tell!).

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Oliver (right) at a local shop in Timichi

Leaving Timichi the next day, I became part of the natural gas supply-chain that satisfies what little energy requirements the locals have for cooking and heating. The transport of gas containers puts locals (and tourists) at immediate risk, yet provides reliable energy where it is really needed. Also, during the ride on the pick-up truck, I noticed that few houses in villages along the way had solar photovoltaic (PV) panels installed, showing what great potential there is for renewable energy generation for the local population.

During one of  many more trips that day, I observed one mini-bus driver watching a video explaining COP22 and climate change (while driving obviously). Moroccans perceive it as a great honour to be hosting this year’s global climate conference and as many along the way told me “everyone is talking about it”. The awareness about the need to mitigate climate change appears to be there, just maybe not the financial means.

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Cycling in Taroudant

The day ended in Taroudant, a majestic, 16th century walled city. Cycling along the entire seven kilometre wall of this former capital, I discovered that the technological options to satisfy heating demands with solar energy are already more popular and widespread than in the High Atlas.

Heading to the city of Essaouira on the third day, through well-developed Agadir and along the popular Atlantic coast, it became clear that in the touristic and more modern areas of the country, renewable energy generation is also even more widespread. Most hotels had solar heating and electricity for parking lots was provided entirely through solar PV panels.

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PV-powered lights in parking lot

From the relatively poor Berber villages in the High Atlas via the wealthier former-capital city of Taroudant to the prosperous Atlantic Coast, it appears that wealth or access to finance enables faster, and greater take-up of renewable energy. This underlines Morocco’s claims for better international support through new climate finance mechanisms and shows how the “high-level” issues discussed at COP can directly affect the ability of the local population to act against climate change.

Let’s see what COP22 has to offer to provide climate finance, so that after the sun has set on the shores of Essaouira, the lights of modern Morocco from the Atlas mountains to the Atlantic coast are powered through more climate-friendly energy than today.

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Sunset in Essaouira

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