Report: Renewable projects ‘uphold occupation’ in Western Sahara

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Morocco’s plans to generate 1000MW of renewable electricity in the Western Sahara upholds a partial occupation of the desert territory which is not recognised by the UN or any of its members, a new report says.

Morocco plans to generate 42% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, under a national renewable energy plan. To do this, it will build five new solar power stations with a combined capacity of 2000MW and six wind farms, capable of generating 1000MW.

But two of the solar plants and four of the wind farms will be located in the Western Sahara.

According to ‘Dirty Green March’, a study by the Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), however green the projects are, they will cement occupation and be “severely damaging” for the indigenous Saharaoui people.

“The energy produced will be used to capitalise on the resources already illegally being exploited by Morocco in Western Sahara, thereby intensifying the ongoing pillage,” said Sara Eyckmans, a spokeswoman for Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW).

“And by exporting the energy to the EU and to Morocco proper, the occupying power seeks to anchor its untenable claim over the territory,” she added.

As a non-petroleum producing Middle East nation, more than 90% of Morocco’s energy is currently imported.

The European Commission did not respond to a request for clarification of whether the bloc might one day import renewable electricity produced in Western Sahara, or provide development assistance for the planning and installation of such projects.

The European Investment Bank has provided financial assistance for Morocco’s renewable energy projects but could also not immediately confirm whether any funding had gone to projects in the Western Sahara region.

Desertec, a crisis-hit international consortium that aimed to meet 20% of Europe’s mid-century electricity needs with Saharan solar power pledged in 2010 that its projects would not be located in Western Sahara region for “reputational reasons”.

Morocco invaded the Western Sahara region in 1975 in what it called a ‘Green March’, following an aborted attempt at decolonisation by the former imperial power, Spain.   

That year, the International Court of Justice found no ‘legal ties’ of territorial sovereignty between Morocco and Western Sahara and ruled that it remained a colony, albeit one now governed by Morocco.

The desert territory is one of the most inhospitable and sparsely populated areas on earth with a population of just 500,000, more than half of whom have fled Moroccan rule. 

Positions: 

After publication of this story, a European Commission spokesperson sent EurActiv the following statement: “Imports of energy from Western Sahara are not occurring and there are no such plans. No development assistance is foreseen from the EU (DEVCO and EIB) for the Renewable energy plants in Western Sahara.”

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