Sounds Alarm about Environmental Projects on Occupied Land

Several Moroccan environmental projects in occupied Western Sahara are being considered by the UN. Published in Norwegian news service Bistandsaktuelt, 17 July 2012.

Published 25 July 2012

The story below was published 17 July in the Norwegian newspaper Bistandsaktuelt, a foreign affairs and foreign aid journal owned by the Norwegian government agency for development aid. 

Translated by Western Sahara Resource Watch


Several Moroccan environmental projects in occupied Western Sahara are being considered by the UN.

“The UN has, through a series of resolutions, denounced the occupation of Western Sahara and is involved in the arbitration between Morocco and Sahrawi representatives. It would therefore be problematic if a UN organ were to approve Moroccan companies’ activity in the occupied areas,” Erik Hagen, director of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, explained to Bistandsaktuelt. 

The German corporation Siemens announced at the beginning of 2012 that they would concentrate on wind power in “Morocco”. 

By means of the windmill parks Haouma and Foum El Oued, the company would contribute to Morocco’s goal that a fifth of the country’s energy supply would be renewable. Siemens therefore applied to have the wind parks approved as projects in “the Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM). The windmill parks are being built in cooperation with Nareva, a company in which the Moroccan king owns shares.

There is only one catch in this. Foum El Oued is not located in Morocco at all but a little distance outside Laayoune in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara. In a letter to The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara [1] the company claims that the energy will benefit the local population, but it is uncertain whether and how the Sahrawi population has been consulted about the project.

In the CDM, companies may receive emission credits for projects involving renewable energy in developing countries. These credits may subsequently be sold. To be approved, the project must first be evaluated by a company certified to evaluate CDM projects.

Siemens has, however, met resistance on its path through the system. Det Norske Veritas (DNV) was responsible for approving the Foum El Oued project but turned thumbs down. The reason was that the project is taking place in a politically controversial area.

Thumbs Down
Stein B. Jensen at DNV Climate Change Services recounts that they originally believed that the wind park was to be built in southern Morocco, but after a while began to suspect that this was not the case.

“When we visited the project, it became clear that our suspicions were justified. It was therefore fairly simple on our part. In January we disclosed that we would be negative to the project. When a customer is informed of this, they can choose whether to continue with the negative recommendation or cancel the project. In this case they chose to cancel, as most do,” Jensen related.

The project was officially cancelled in April 2012. In CDM’s project data base Foum El Oued is still listed. Jensen explained this on the basis of slowness in updating the UN’s web pages.

Bistandsaktuelt has not succeeded in obtaining an answer from the CDM secretariat.

Siemens: Not Violating Any Rights
Alfons Benzinger, spokesperson for Siemens, emphasised that the company has a minor part in the Foum El Oued project.

”It is not Siemens who is developing this project. We would just deliver and maintain 22 wind turbines for our customer, Nareva,” Benzinger wrote in an e-mail to Bistandsaktuelt. 

He believes the project entails a series of “very positive effects” in the form of sustainable wind power, development “the region” Western Sahara and improvement of the local population’s situation. 

“It is not Siemens that decided where the project is to be located. By delivering the technology for this project, we are making a political statement about this region’s status. Independent of political conflicts, we believe that a functioning infrastructure will improve the economic conditions – and thus also the situation for the people of Western Sahara,” Siemens’s spokesperson stated.

Simultaneously, the company has made a legal assessment and concluded that its participation in the project “may be permitted under the laws and regulations in force and does not violate the right to self-determination or any other human right within international law,” Benzinger wrote.

Several Up for Assessment

Siemens’s wind power project is, however, not the only environmental project planned on occupied land. The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara and the network Sahara Resource Watch have found that the Moroccan branch of CDM is trying to certify several “green projects” in occupied Western Sahara:


  • A solar energy project for the fishery industry.
  • A project for wind power for the cement production run by the Italian-owned Ciments du Maroc.
  • A project for phosphate extraction by the Moroccan state-owned company OCP. Several investors, including the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global, have previously withdrawn from this company for ethical reasons, based precisely on the UN’s evaluation of international law in industrial activity in the territory.

    “We urge CDM to follow the advice of the UN’s lawyers and not permit financing of projects in Western Sahara,” Sara Eyckmans, coordinator for Western Sahara Resource Watch stated. 

    Erik Hagen of The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara is uncertain whether the consultancy firms that have to approve the projects have sufficient understanding of what is happening in Western Sahara and believes the question must be clarified principally by CDM. 

    “Siemens turns out not to be a unique case. We appreciate to learn about DNV’s attitude and this will hopefully set the standard for future CDM applications in the occupied territories. But we can not take it for granted that all certification companies will reach the same conclusion. CDM must in principle clarify that a state can not have CDM projects in areas that lie outside their internationally accepted borders,” Hagen stated. 

    Note from translator:
    [1] Correct should be: “letter to Western Sahara Resource Watch” 


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