Natural resources, energy and environment
Morocco controls over half of the world’s phosphate reserves, including in Western Sahara. Several other minerals are found, such as iron ore, silver, lead, copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, salt, coal and anthracite. However, the “white gold”, phosphate, accounts for 95 percent of the mineral extraction.
From the big Boucraa mine in Western Sahara, the world’s longest conveyor belt, about nine miles, goes to the coast.
- COUNTRYAAH: Major exports by Morocco with a full list of the top products exported by the country. Includes trade value in U.S. dollars and the percentage for each product category.
Only a fifth of the country’s surface has been surveyed, and large assets of gold, silver and cobalt are believed to be found in the Atlas Mountains.
The extraction of iron ore was previously significant but has declined significantly. While phosphate mining is state, many other mines have been sold to private companies. Morocco has invested in refining phosphates and today exports more phosphate products than phosphate.
Almost all energy needs are covered by imports. Foreign companies have been seeking oil and gas under favorable conditions since the 1990s, but so far without success. In the countryside, firewood is still an important source of energy, although most villages now have electricity.
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Hydroelectric power generates some domestic electricity generation, but around 90 percent of the electricity is produced using coal, oil and natural gas imported. However, investments are being made on renewable energy: wind power is being expanded and a huge solar power plant has been built in Ourzazate at the edge of the Sahara. When the first part of it was put into operation in 2015 (inaugurated by the king in 2016), solar power capacity increased in one stroke from 20 to 180 megawatts. The plant is called Noor (the Arabic word for light) and produces thermal solar energy. Thermal solar energy is based on the sunlight being reflected to a surface where it heats up a liquid, which in turn drives a turbine that generates electricity. Fully expanded, the solar power park will provide one million people with electricity. It is constructed using loans from the World Bank.
Morocco’s and Spain’s electricity grids are interconnected and an increasing share of the electricity market has been privatized. An agreement exists with France to possibly build a nuclear power plant. Despite the political conflicts with Algeria, there is some energy cooperation between the countries. An Algerian natural gas pipeline passes Morocco on its way to Spain, and Morocco is entitled to part of the gas as payment.
Water scarcity is a serious environmental problem (see Agriculture and Fisheries) as well as soil erosion. The pollution of air and coastal water is extensive, especially from the phosphate industry and the chemical industry.
Urbanization with high construction rates in some coastal cities has increased the demand for sand. The UN environmental program Unep claims that the construction industry has thus also received an illegal element, a “sand mafia”. Sand dunes are disappearing and coastal stretches are being exploited harder than nature can tolerate, according to representatives of the local environmental organization Anpel, which is trying to strengthen beach protection especially on the Atlantic coast between Casablanca and Rabat. In a 2019 report, Unep estimated that about a tenth of the sand consumed by the construction industry is extracted without a permit. Other sources point out that there is also a link to money laundering.
FACTS – ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Energy use per person
560 kilos of oil equivalent (2014)
Electricity consumption per person
912 kWh, kWh (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions in total
59 864 thousand tonnes (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions per inhabitant
1.7 tons (2014)
The share of energy from renewable sources
11.3 percent (2015)
Protests against pardon
When it becomes known that a pedophile is among 48 Spaniards whom the king has pardoned, street protests erupt in Rabat, where protesters clash with police. The man convicted of assaulting eleven children had served only 2 of 30 years in prison. The protests become so extensive that the king withdraws the pardon, something that has never happened before. The Spanish have left the country but are arrested by police in Spain.
New fisheries agreement with the EU
Morocco and the EU sign a new agreement on European fishing rights in Moroccan waters (see December 2011). EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki says the new agreement follows international law and promotes sustainable development in Western Sahara. The agreement runs for four years and gives vessels from eleven EU countries the right to fish along the Moroccan and Western Saharan coasts. The EU and European shipowners pay Morocco € 40 million a year.
Istiqlal leaves the government
The right-wing nationalist party withdraws from the coalition in protest of the economic policies pursued by the dominant Islamist party PJD. In particular, Istiqlal criticizes the plans to reduce subsidies on basic commodities by 20 percent.
Journalist gets jail
Editor-in-chief Youseff Jajili at the weekly newspaper Alaan is sentenced to two months’ conditional imprisonment and fines for writing about a minister who bought alcohol with public funds during a trip in the service – particularly embarrassing because of Islam’s ban on alcohol.