Global Warming Threatens Morocco: Morocco Responds

Climate change is a potentially devastating threat to Morocco and other North African countries, but even as the United States has abdicated its global responsibility, Morocco is among the leaders in the fight to mitigate its effects.

Even as a recent article in New York Magazine has created shock waves with its nightmare worst case scenario in the event of unchecked climate change — a virtually uninhabitable planet — more focused studies have predicted that the impact of climate change will fall particularly heavily on North Africa and the Middle East. In particular the region is threatened by potential flooding, decreased rainfall and food production, and soaring heat waves, and some experts have speculated the region may become uninhabitable.

In the face of potential catastrophe, a recent World Bank Report highlights growing Moroccan leadership in climate change technology but also acknowledges shortcomings in business savvy, government support, and capital investment.

However, the World Bank has summarized five significant steps that Morocco has taken in the fight to avert the worst effects of climate change:


  1. Morocco aims to generate 52% of its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2030, and is stimulating local manufacturing with a target of sourcing 35% of the second phase of the NOOR concentrated solar plant from local producers.
  2. Morocco has lifted all subsidies on diesel, gasoline and heavy fuel oil to encourage more efficient use of energy and to free up resources to invest in the transition to a green economy.
  3. The Plan Maroc Vert aims to protect the environment as well as the livelihoods of Moroccans. Agriculture accounts for only 15% of its Gross Domestic Product, but farming still employs 40% of its workforce.
  4. Morocco has begun treating its ocean as a natural resource with the same importance as the land, with improved coastal zone management and the development of sustainable aquaculture. Fishing makes up 56% of the country’s agricultural exports.
  5. Morocco is making an effort to conserve its underground aquifers, a natural source of fresh water that, if left clean and undisturbed, replenishes itself. It’s a win for the environment and for current and future generations of Moroccans.

Id. While a lack of the fossil fuel deposits of some or Morocco’s neighbors presumably drives part of the country’s effort to develop renewable energy sources, the effect has clearly been a salutary one on Morocco’s short and long-term future. While Europe and the United States obsess over the possibility of mass migration from the Maghreb, Morocco is clearly doing what it can to promote a livable future at home.

Moroccan Wildlife on the Brink

The Barbary Macaque, unique to North Africa and most prevalent in Morocco, is in imminent danger of extinction, according to the Daily Mail. Although Moroccan conservation authorities are working to preserve and manage the remaining population, the monkeys face multiple threats from poachers, pet seekers, and tourists who feed the monkeys. Obesity and other illnesses not only threaten the health of the monkeys, but also result in reduced fertility. Chief among the threats, however, is deforestation and loss of habitat.

Morocco is home to a wide range of species endemic to the region and dating from Palearctic times. The species — both plants and animals — have evolved in relative isolation in the mountains, with the result, for example, that the Barbary Macaque is the only Macaque indigenous to Africa.

A combination of environmental factors, including but not limited to global warming, have put Morocco’s unique ecosystem in peril, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Morocco has lost 75 percent of its forests in the past century, which WWF attributes in large part to timber sales, clearance of land in order to grow kif, especially in the Rif, and changes in traditional modes of life. The WWF explains:

The collapse of the semi-nomadic Berber pastoral system has transformed summer camps in the high mountain grasslands into permanent human settlements. A large amount of firewood is collected, in many cases illegally. Intensive collection of cedar branches frequently kills the trees. Furthermore, the need for livestock fodder during winter gives rise to extensive overgrazing and soil degradation in the forest understory. Overgrazing and land conversion into agriculture is also an important human impact in the broadleaf forest area.

Deforestation has had devastating impact on the wildlife of the region, from the extinction of the Barbary Lion, near extinction of the Barbary Leopard, and the anticipated demise of the Barbary Macaque. Hundreds of species of trees are also threatened.

As the WWF points out, however, there is a clear downward spiral in which economic hardship fuels destruction of natural resources, and destruction of natural resources fuels economic hardship. While Morocco has taken more initiative and shouldered more responsibility than other Maghrebian countries, and in some cases has larger populations to preserve, there is a real question as to whether conservation measures are too little, too late.

The Greening of Morocco?

In the opening of The Graduate, Mr. McGuire has one word for the young Benjamin Braddock: “Plastics — there’s a great future in plastics.” The future appears to be less bright for plastics in Morocco, where the government is vigorously pursuing its campaign against the formerly ubiquitous plastic bag or “mika,” which has long littered the Moroccan landscape. In the past year, the government has reportedly seized 420 tons of plastic bags since passing a ban. The initiative follows the opening last year of Morocco’s massive solar power plant in the Sahara.

This is not to say that Morocco does not continue to face significant environmental challenges, particularly in the areas of desertification, water pollution, and destruction of river systems from projects such as dam construction.