Morocco's INDC - A strong signal coming from the first Arab country

Morocco, which will be the host of the 22nd climate negotiations in 2016, reacently submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCCC. This makes Morocco the first Arab and second African country to put forward its national mitigation target and manifests its climate and energy leadership in the region.

The Moroccan INDC encompasses two economy-wide targets covering CO2, CH4, and N2O: An unconditional target and another based on certain requirements to unlock the country's maximum ambition.

  • Unconditional target: By investing around $10 billon into greening its economy, Morocco is committed to reduce its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions unconditionally by 13% below Business as Usual (BAU) by 2030 and according to the base year of 2010;
  • Conditional target: Under the condition that a) significant additional finance could spur $35 billion in support between 2015-2030 as financial, technical and capacity support through new climate finance mechanisms by other countries, and b) a new legally-binding agreement under the UNFCCC would be adopted at the 21st COP in Paris, the emission reductions could increase to 32% below BAU by 2030;

Driven by increased energy demand Morocco has seen a steep increase in its GHG emissions in recent years. Total GHG emissions almost doubled in the last decade and the emitted 94 million tons (MT) of GHG in 2010 are again expected to increase by more than 80% to 171 MT in 2030 under BAU. For the unconditional target, the pledged 13% GHG reduction translates into an increase to 129 MT in 2025 and 148 MT by 2030, which equals a cumulative GHG mitigation of 142 MT compared to BAU. If the required conditions for the 32% target would be met, the emissions would still increase but rather slowly reaching 104 MT in 2025 and 117 MT by 2030, thereby saving 401 MT GHG over the BAU period 2010-2030.

In order to achieve the targets set in the INDC, the country has given clear and transparent indications on the additional mitigation actions needed. The unconditional target is based on the implementation of 10 actions, while the conditional target assumes 54 actions over the period 2010-2030 in the main economic sectors.

  • Energy (50%): Energy production and demand (i.e., households, transport, industry services);
  • Agriculture (26%): Fermentation, cropping systems;
  • Waste (18%): Solid waste and waste water management;
  • Land use and forestry (5%): Afforestation, horticulture, forest fires;
  • Industrial processes (1%): Cement industry, steel and metal manufacturing;

All these actions are rooted in national priorities and policies, thereby making them part of a coherent sustainable development strategy. The most prominent ones are: the National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSSD), the National Strategy to Combat Global Warming (NSGW), the Green Morocco Plan (GMP), the Green Investment Plan (GIP) and the Moroccan Solar Plan (MSP).

Due to its acute vulnerability to climate change, Morocco's INDC also includes a climate adaptation component which will be complemented by the development of a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) focusing on decreasing the vulnerability of the country's largely agrarian population and better coordinating the envisioned actions.

  • Adaptation target: Morocco seeks to continue its efforts to increase the resilience of key infrastructures, vulnerable populations and fragile ecosystems, especially in the mountain, oases and coastal areas, by devoting at least 15% of its overall investment expenditures to adaptation actions, such as integrated water resource management and artificial refill of aquifers, anti-desertification measures, protection of cultural heritage, and conversion of grain crop areas to fruit plantations.

How ambitious is the Moroccan INDC?

Despite Morocco being responsible for less than 0.2% of global GHG emissions, and with its per capita emissions of 3 tons being well below the global average and four times lower than the average of industrialized countries, the country's progress in climate policy planning and institution building over recent years has been commendable. Its commitment towards a climate-compatible and low-carbon development pathway is mirrored in its institutional framework, multiple national plans and international agreements. As a result of its great political efforts, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) identified Morocco already as the biggest global recipient of international climate funds. Furthermore, the 2015 Climate Performance Index published by Germanwatch and ClimateActionNetwork currently ranks Morocco among the top ten countries globally and first among African and developing countries based on its climate and energy policies.

Being the first Arab country to submit its INDC, Morocco continues to demonstrate its political willingness and responsibility to fight climate change by promoting an ambitious outcome at the COP 21 in Paris, both as a regional climate policy leader and as the host of COP 22 in 2016. The kingdom's suggested mitigation and adaptation actions to achieve the INDC targets are coherent with national policies and a clear follow-up of its previous efforts which show that in developing countries the right policies can contribute to the fight against climate change and the achievement of sustainable development objectives simultaneously.

For a developing country for which its annual GHG emission growth is projected to reach levels of 7% and who's future focus will be on adaptation due to its high climate vulnerability, setting formal targets for curbing its emission trend downwards by 13% or 32% respectively means a significant strengthening of Morocco's ambition. Reflecting on the country's capacities, the Moroccan commitment therefore can be regarded a positive step that should encourage other countries to follow by announcing their own climate mitigation pledges in a timely fashion. Further positive elements of Morocco's INDC include the specification of economy-wide emission reduction targets and timeframes with a special focus on energy through a) the extension of the national solar and wind programs in order to increase the installed capacity to more than 50% by 2025, b) reducing energy consumption in buildings, transport and industry by 15% by 2030, and c) phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. These transparent clarifications on what can be achieved with and without international support send a clear signal to private investors and make access to international climate finances (i.e., GCF) more likely.

Although the constraints stipulated by climate science leave now doubt that global GHG emissions must peak by 2020 and phase out in the long term in order to limit global warming to below 2°C, Morocco's INDC indicates a shallow but steady increase of absolute emissions until 2030. Yet, this could still be considered fair as countries of the Global South should be allowed to peak their emissions later than industrialized countries. What is remarkable, however, is that despite no emission peak year has been mentioned in the Moroccan INDC, the emission trend illustrated in both targets appears to sharply decline after 2029, suggesting an emission peak and a decoupling of Morocco's GHG emissions from economic growth and the effective transition towards a green economy at the end of the INDC period. An assumption which is also reflected in a statement mentioned in the INDC that within the conditional target the per capita emissions would not exceed 3.1 tons CO2eq in 2029.

Although, there are many positive aspects to be found in Morocco's INDC that could term it ambitious, there are also critical issues. Based on the analysis provided by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), the ambition of the INDC is only rated as "Medium", not yet consistent with limiting warming below 2°C unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort. The reason for this primarily stems from the fact that.

Furthermore, referring its mitigation targets relative to BAU as baseline rather than to a base year raises questions over how the pledge would be adjusted if the emission development would differ from the projected BAU - especially considering uncertainties about future economic and demographic growth. While this approach is in line with the target setting of other developing countries (e.g., Gabon), making it appear more ambitious than measured against a base year, it is significantly different than the approach taken by the EU for example. Because global temperature rise ultimately depends on cumulative emissions, Morocco should therefore, not view its submitted INDC as the final word on what could be achieved, but rather as a first concrete step to operationalize a dynamic process to avoid dangerous climate change. In this regard, and as a next step forward, the host of the COP 22 in 2016 should build on its ambition of action and consider progressively increasing it targets throughout the target period and clarify the level and year at which the country expects its emissions to peak. The planned international INDC forum in Casablanca in October 2015 organized by the Moroccan Government to examine the global progress of the INDC submissions could provide an opportunity for such readjustments.

While shortcomings indicate room for improvement, some of the suggested measures to achieve the pledged targets should be abandoned overall. What is especially disappointing is that instead of moving towards a low-carbon economy based on 100% renewable energy sources, which is both feasible and economically viable due to the country's abundant sun and wind potential, some mitigation actions would definitely thwart Morocco's role as a regional climate and renewable energy leader. This concerns the suggested switch from coal to substantially increased imports of liquefied gas that would manifest the country's energy import dependency and create a fossil lock-in. Even more worrying are the plans to build a nuclear power plant after 2030 which certainly cannot be regarded part of a sustainable energy future.

Lastly, although stated to have undertaken a broad stakeholder consultation process, no civil society representatives were consulted during the preparation and review process of the submitted INDC ambition levels and their respective actions. The good news is however, that the early submission now allows the Moroccan Government to establish a transparent and inclusive dialogue with civil society to ensure their active participation in the further development and implementation process of Morocco's climate policy and to raise awareness on the actions needed to meet the submitted targets. Just a few weeks ago, end of May 2015, 18 Moroccan NGOs urged their Government to establish a structured and open participation process to give civil society an active voice in decision that affect their future (see: https://germanwatch.org/de/download/11488.pdf). The Moroccan Competence Centre for Climate Change (4C) of the Ministry of the Environment should address this call by taking the proposals of civil society seriously and increasing the inclusion of national civil society organizations into the country's climate and energy policy-making.