As part of this edition’s series on the front lines of the ecological crisis around the world, we hear from writers about the geopolitics of climate change Brazil, Morocco, Nigeria, Serbia, and Turkey. Florent Marcellesi examines Morocco’s colonial attempts to extend its influence into Western Sahara through climate initiatives and investment.
Morocco is a key player in climate politics. First, the country is an important energy corridor bringing Algerian natural gas to Spain. The closure of the gas pipeline between the two north African countries due to diplomatic problems in October 2021 demonstrated how Europe in general, and Spain in particular, is highly dependent on the stability of its Mediterranean neighbours. This dependency makes abandoning the use of natural gas as soon as possible a priority; Europe should instead bet on a renewable, relocalised, and self-sufficient energy system.
Second, for years Morocco has positioned itself as North Africa’s climate champion, for example by organising the last COP held on the African continent, COP22 in Marrakech in 2016. Morocco’s commitment to renewables, driven by a clear desire to improve the country’s external image, is striking for a region still dominated by fossil fuels.
However, this strategy contains a huge flaw: half of the renewable production that the Moroccan regime plans to roll out by the year 2030 is located in the occupied territory of Western Sahara. As the European Court of Justice has emphatically reiterated in recent years, Western Sahara does not belong to Morocco but is rather a non-autonomous territory still in the process of decolonisation after occupation by Spain. For any type of project, including renewable energy, the consent of the Saharawi people is necessary, as well as dialogue with the Polisario Front, their legitimate representative.
The reality on the ground is quite different. As the NGO Western Sahara Resource Watch has documented, many solar plants are already operating in Western Sahara with the illegal approval of Morocco. These projects are in the hands of European companies such as Siemens Gamesa, Enel, and ENGIE, as well as international firms including General Electric and ACWA Power. Since none of these companies have sought the necessary consent of the Saharawi people, these projects contravene international and European law.
Since none of these companies have sought the necessary consent of the Saharawi people, these projects contravene international and European law.
If that were not enough, Morocco has illegally included Western Sahara in its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the context of the Paris Agreement. It is a clear case of “climate colonialism” that challenges any serious approach to climate justice. Renewables, yes, but only through legality and justice.
Faced with this situation, the EU and Spain must raise their voices against the colonial use of renewable energy. European companies should stop intervening in Western Sahara until they obtain the consent of the Saharawi people. When it comes to international climate commitments, Morocco should present nationally determined contributions circumscribed to its territory as recognised by the United Nations, while Western Sahara should be endowed with its own nationally determined contributions as required by international law.