Why Climate Action is About Fighting Poverty

on May 02, 2017 at 11:45 AM

World Leaders Speak At UN Climate SummitThis month, world leaders will converge in Bonn, Germany for the Bonn Climate Change Conference, just a few weeks after millions of people around the world participated in Earth Day activities, planting trees, cleaning up public parks, and mobilizing for stronger environmental protections. The timing is fitting, for what started out in 1970 as a strictly American effort to raise awareness of environmental issues has become a global phenomenon, just as the gravity of climate change is felt more and more each day around the world.

And nowhere is it felt more than in developing countries. The World Bank estimates that without action, “climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.” It will expose millions to climate-related diseases like malaria and diarrhea, and result in massive food shortages as desertification and flooding destroy crops. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the World Bank predicts, will bear the brunt of the devastation.

My country, Morocco—located at the crossroads of Europe and Africa—is no stranger to these challenges. While we have made great strides in diversifying our economy and in attracting foreign investments over the past fifteen years, agriculture still accounts for roughly 15% of our GDP (by comparison, agriculture accounts for about 1% of the US economy). A drought can still cost tens of thousands of our citizens their livelihoods, with ripple effects reaching across the continent and beyond in our highly globalized world.

That is why Morocco has been promoting climate action since the beginning of the movement to do so. Morocco participated in the very first United Nations Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, which saw the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 2001, Morocco became the first Arab and first African country to host a Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention; and reprised the role of COP host in November of last year in Marrakesh.

In a speech to attendees, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI urged participants at COP 22 to move beyond promises to “tangible initiatives and practical steps,” and to respect and support the priorities and resources of developing countries.

“Holding this conference in Africa,” he said, “is an incentive for us to give priority to tackling the adverse repercussions of climate change, which are growing worse and worse in the countries of the South and in insular states whose very existence is in jeopardy.”

Morocco views its role as host of COP 22 with a strong sense of pride and responsibility. Morocco is African, first and foremost, and we are determined to leverage our experience—building the world’s largest solar power plant, for example, to capture the clean energy of the hot Sahara sun—to help our neighbors defend against climate catastrophe.

In Marrakesh, we made historic progress on the road to a more sustainable future. The nations of the world unanimously joined the Marrakesh Proclamation, reaffirming their resolve to work towards the effective and timely implementation of the Paris Agreement (COP 21). Marrakesh was also an unprecedented platform for non-state actors, among them businesses, NGOs, cities, regions, coalitions and many others, who were not there merely as observers but rather as essential actors. The Marrakesh Partnership for Climate Action has successfully captured this collective drive and desire for concrete action and further strengthens this historic momentum.

Since November, the Moroccan Presidency of COP 22 has hosted a series of events to keep COP 22’s legacy of action. For example, we were the first Presidency to host a post-COP event with civil society to reflect on the outcomes of COP 22 and plan the road ahead. We have hosted events on the NDC Partnership (a partnership launched at COP 22 assisting countries to deliver on their Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs), workshops on climate finance, and meetings of the UNFCCC bureau. We sent a delegation to the World Bank Spring Meetings as climate finance is a central element of the COP 22 Presidency roadmap. And our team is hard at work preparing for the May Climate Change Conference in Bonn, in close collaboration with the incoming Fiji COP 23 Presidency and the UNFCCC Secretariat.

Sustainable development is a key aspect of the Kingdom’s vision for an ever more inclusive and egalitarian society, and Morocco has been able to align our sustainability efforts with economic development.

At the same time, there is more and more understanding among donor countries that the most accurate grasp of challenges faced by recipient countries and solutions to those challenges are on the ground, at the recipient level. If the attitude shift results in greater support for development efforts, we will have gone a long way not only toward helping Mother Earth, but helping all her children, too.


Aziz Mekouar was COP 22 Ambassador for Multilateral Negotiations. He served as Morocco’s Ambassador to the US from 2002 to 2011.