Morocco is a perfect place for the world’s biggest climate change conference

The Noor-1 power plant is visible from space.
The Noor-1 power plant is visible from space.
Image: AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar
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As the world gathers in Marrakech at the UN’s COP22 conference, starting Nov.7, to grapple with how to implement the Paris climate change agreement, it need only look to its host to figure out a plan.

North Africa has had a horrendous past couple of years. There’s military rule in Egypt, chaos in Libya and civil war in South Sudan. But, when it comes to climate change, one country has been powering forward: Morocco.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals aren’t new for the COP22 host. It had already added the right to a healthy environment and sustainable development to its constitution in 2011. It’s ranked the world’s sixth best country in the 2016 Climate Change Performance Index and is the only non-European country in the top-20. Earlier this year, Morocco opened Noor 1, a solar power plant in the Sahara so enormous it can be seen from space. And that’s just the plant’s first section—by the time parts two and three of the $9 billion project are finished in 2018, it will likely be the biggest solar plant in the world and provide energy for at least a million people with a 580 megawatt capacity.

It’s all part of a push to generate 52% of its energy from renewables by 2030. That doesn’t seem an empty goal. In 2014, the turbines started spinning at Tarfaya, the largest wind farm in Africa, which has the capacity to provide energy for around 1.1 million people. Morocco’s renewable energy drive is spurred by the unsustainably high proportion of energy it imports from abroad. In 2013, that figure was at 90%, according to the World Bank.

The government has helped propel infrastructure investment by phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels and regulation in favor of green energy, which has encouraged private sector investment in renewables. The funds saved from these subsidies have instead been put into social welfare schemes, especially health and education for the poor, according to the World Bank.