Since Morocco became the first nation to recognize U.S. independence in 1777, it has enjoyed a special relationship with the United States. Morocco is a “major non-NATO U.S. ally”—a status that it has enjoyed since 2004. Today, Morocco has also emerged as a “climate hotspot,” struggling with extraordinary climate challenges: water security, migration, extreme heat, and drought.

But if we look closely, Morocco is poised to also benefit from larger climate trends in renewable energy development and decarbonization. How Morocco addresses its climate-destabilized future offers lessons for the rest of the world.

I just returned from two weeks in Morocco as part of an international engagement where I helped provide training on environmental and climate security matters to Moroccan military officers. While I hope that my training was well received (the students were truly outstanding) I learned as much — if not more — from my Moroccan students and partners about the climate challenges and opportunities facing them. What struck me was the high level of climate literacy in Morocco, which reflected a deep understanding of the climate and environmental challenges facing Morocco.  This is, perhaps, not surprising. The most climate-affected States are often, by necessity, the innovators and early adapters in finding climate solutions.

Located at the crossroads of Western Europe and Africa, Morocco’s experience and ability to address climate-driven destabilization will be of critical importance for North Africa, Europe, and beyond. In what follows, I highlight several key takeaways from my visit, emphasizing both the challenges and opportunities facing Morocco.

Climate Challenges

Climate Change Exacerbates Longstanding Water Security Issues

Morocco is a water-stressed nation, a historical reality further exacerbated by climate change. Between 1960 and 2020, water availability per person in Morocco decreased by 75 percent. This negative trendline continues, despite Morocco’s best efforts to manage and allocate water. This decrease can be attributed to myriad factors: population growth, precipitation decline, and temperature increases. Indeed, Morocco’s average temperature has increased by almost 1.4 degrees Celsius since the 1970s, an uptick exceeding the global average increase.

Further, climate change will stress water access rights, an issue of immense importance throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The World Bank estimates that in the Middle East and North Africa, 60 percent of surface water resources are transboundary, with nations sharing aquifers across political boundaries. What’s more, many of these aquifers are vulnerable to saltwater intrusion, an environmental stressor exacerbated by climate-driven sea level rise. With the rise of water scarcity and access taking on increased importance, Morocco has started to invest in desalination technology.  But this effort is both expensive and energy intensive.

Thankfully, the Moroccan government has made water access a core national priority. Morocco passed an innovative law on water and groundwater management designed to guarantee citizens the right to have access to water while preserving water resources. But climate change will continue to stress and test existing the best-laid laws and plans.

Climate Change Will Lead to Greater External Migration from the Sahel & Beyond

The nearby African Sahel is an area uniquely vulnerable to climate change. Morocco shares a border with Mauritania to its southeast and the other Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Chad) are nearby. The most recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change and International Responses labeled this part of Africa a “regional arc of vulnerability.” And the U.S. National Security Strategy speaks to “increased geopolitical volatility” that is accentuated by “interrelated phenomenon” like climate change and mass migration. Several of these nations have experienced political upheaval in recent years, showcasing in real time the nexus between political vulnerability and climate instability. According to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, 14 of the 25 nations most vulnerable to climate change have been involved—or are currently involved—in an armed conflict.

In the place of this political instability and vulnerability, Morocco stands out as a comparably stable neighbor with a growing economy bolstered by foreign investment, tourism, and a robust agricultural sector. For millennia, Morocco has been a place of transit for migrants leaving sub-Saharan Africa and seeking to get to Europe. Climate change will continue that trend, with more and more migrants both transiting through and staying in Morocco for the economic opportunity the nation affords.

Climate Change Will Also Lead to Greater Internal Migration

The vast majority of Morocco’s poor (79 percent) resides in rural areas, and they are heavily reliant on water-dependent agriculture as their main source of income and nutrition. By one estimate, the water shortage could reduce agricultural labor and forcing almost 2 million Moroccans to migrate to major cities. Prolonged droughts and extreme heat are already affecting crop yields. 2023 was the hottest year on record with Morocco’s temperature exceeding 50 degrees Celsius for the first time in its history. These climate-driven weather impacts pose immense challenges to food security and rural livelihoods dependent on agriculture, a reality that will lead to greater internal population movements from rural to urban areas.

Climate Opportunities

Morocco is a country positioned on the front lines of climate change, and the ways in which it has responded offer opportunities for other States—many or most of whom will eventually face similar challenges. A pair of lessons from my observations: 

Look to Renewables and Other Investment Opportunities

As the world ramps up decarbonization efforts, there will be winners (nations rich in renewable resources) and losers (e.g. petrostates). Morocco stands to be in the renewable energy winner’s circle by tapping into its solar, wind, and hydropower generation capacity. While just 20 percent of Morocco’s electricity generation flows from renewable sources (wind, solar, hydropower), this number is poised to increase. Indeed, Morocco may well be on the cusp of a transformational renewable energy transition. This could be an economic boom for Morocco, which is well positioned to serve as a hub for green investment and export energy to Africa, Europe, and beyond (Morocco’s economy is already closely integrated with the European Union).

Morocco is the only North African nation that lacks natural oil resources. What Morocco lacks in fossil fuels, it can more than make up for with renewable energy resources. Today, Morocco remains reliant on imported fuels.  But this is beginning to shift with a renewable energy transition that is already underway with the Moroccan government’s stated goal of achieving a “52 percent share of renewables in installed capacity.” Beyond creating jobs, this transition can ensure Moroccan energy security and help insulate Morocco from volatile energy prices. Solar panels were popping up everywhere when I was in Morocco. This is not surprising when one considers that Morocco enjoys 3,000 hours of sunshine a year—an astonishing number and one of the highest in the world. Morocco is also blessed with a steady wind-flow in more than 90 percent of its territory.

Whether it’s investing in renewables or other industries where each State is uniquely best-placed, countries should act now to shape their economies in ways that anticipate and respond to global economic patterns in the climate age.

Combine Global Leadership with National Action to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Morocco has submitted remarkably ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, aiming to reduce its Greenhouse Gas emissions by 45.5 percent by 2030 when compared to a “business as usual approach.” The recent Conference of Parties have highlighted the need to increase our collective “mitigation ambition” and Morocco offers a potential pathway for success. To be sure, Moroccan’s share of global Greenhouse Gas emissions is comparably small (just .2 percent of global emissions) but Moroccan’s carbon intensity of its economy is lower than the rest of the world and far below its Middle East and North Africa (MENA) neighbors. Morocco’s engagement serves as a model for other States who want the global community to take climate agreements seriously: leadership at the international level must be coupled with action at home.


The United States, recognizing the critical role that Morocco will play as a source of stability in a time of climate-driven destabilization, has begun to take action. While I was there, Samantha Power the head of USAID announced a new partnership with Morocco, the “Cooperative Resilience Program.” This is designed to provide vulnerable Moroccan cooperatives with resources to better adapt to the impacts of climate change, primarily in rural areas.

The science fiction writer William Gibson once stated “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” For Morocco, climate challenges and opportunities are already present. How Morocco responds to the challenges brought by climate change — and embraces its opportunities — provides insights for the rest of the world.

IMAGE: Solar panels on a house roof in a Berber village in the Anti Atlas mountains of Morocco, North Africa. (Photo by Ashley Cooper via Getty Photos)