Report from COP22: Day 1 in Marrakech

The ‘Little Sun’ solar lamp distributed to participants at COP22
The ‘Little Sun’ solar lamp distributed to participants at COP22

Morocco isn’t often thought of as an environmental leader. But, having spent the last few days in Marrakech, I now realize that it should be. On checking into my hotel, I was told that all lights are on a timer, “so we save electricity.” Riding on one of the city’s “100% electric zero emission” buses, I noticed that much of the public lighting is solar powered. I was told that large-scale solar and wind power facilities are being installed throughout the country, as part of an ambitious program, aimed at supplying at least fifty percent of Morocco’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050. This is vital to meet rising demand for electricity among Moroccans, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change.

Like much of Africa, Morocco has a lot to lose from climate change. Over three-quarters of the country’s land area is desert, receiving less than 250 millimeters (10 inches) of rain annually. In these and other areas, climate change will lead to higher temperatures and more variable rainfall, with longer dry periods. This will have devastating effects on Morocco’s agricultural sector, a key driver of economic growth, and threaten the livelihoods – and lives – of millions. It’s fitting then that Morocco is hosting the 22nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22).

Over the next two weeks, COP22 will bring together delegates from 197 countries to discuss implementation of the Paris Agreement, reached last December. At the opening ceremony on Monday, outgoing COP21 President Her Excellency Ms. Ségolène Royal reported the “excellent news” that 100 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement, leading to rousing applause from delegates. Everyone agrees, however, that more work will need to be done if we are to achieve the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting the increase in average global temperatures to well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels.

In her opening address, Ms. Royal urged countries to take concrete steps to advance the Paris Agreement, including by deploying low carbon technologies. According to Ms. Royal, this technological change will be vital to achieve the Paris Agreement’s 2oC target and prevent the most devastating effects of climate change, particularly in Africa. She warned that climate change will be the “most cruel and the most unfair” in Africa, as the region will feel the greatest impacts from rising temperatures, but is least responsible for them.

Similar sentiments were also expressed by incoming COP22 President His Excellency Mr. Salaheddine Mezouar, who emphasized the need for “urgent, tangible action” to implement the Paris Agreement. Mr. Mezour called on delegates “to be more ambitious in your commitments” under the Agreement. African countries can lead by example, reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, while continuing along the path to sustainable development.

A key development goal of many African countries is to increase electricity access. Currently, throughout Africa, 662.6 million people or fifty-seven percent of the population lacks access to electricity. Forced to burn kerosene for lighting and cooking, these people are exposed to particulate matter, which causes pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. The burning of kerosene is also a source of greenhouse gases and thus contributes to climate change.

Recognizing this, in her opening address at COP22, Ms. Royal declared that the world is in “a race against time” to deliver clean electricity to Africa. To remind the country delegates of this, she presented each with a small solar lamp, in the shape of an Ethiopian flower. After just five hours in the sun, the lamp can provide up to ten hours of light, thus reducing the need for kerosene. As hundreds lit up the darkened meeting room, one couldn’t help but think of what a difference they could make in Africa, and around the world. We can only hope that the delegates will remember this as they work to advance the Paris Agreement over the next two weeks.

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