Lack of int’l climate code lets Turkey off hook on emissions

Lack of int’l climate code lets Turkey off hook on emissions

Lack of int’l climate code lets Turkey off hook on emissions

The major effect of climate change in Turkey is water stress and drought, says Ümit Şahin adding that all three phases of drought; meteorological, agricultural and hydrological, are seen in Turkey. HÜRRİYET photo, Selçuk ŞAMİLOĞLU

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has no political will to fight climate change, according to environmental activist Ümit Şahin.

“The government thinks that all kind of mitigation measures are exactly the opposite of their development policies,” said Şahin of Sabancı University’s Istanbul Policy Center, adding that the lack of an international oversight on climate change gave the government carte blanche to pursue a ruthless development policy.

We have been witnessing heat waves and seen cyclones in Turkey. What is the awareness level of Turks about climate change?

According to some polls, two-thirds of the population seem to be aware of climate chance. It is quite high if you compare it to the United States or some other countries. Most people believe climate change is a real threat. But they don’t have a clear idea about what climate change is.

Maybe one exception is on the rural side. Most of the people in rural parts are aware of the effects because they observe nature more directly.

How come the denial lobby which is so active in the U.S. is not so present in Turkey?

In Turkey there are some deniers but they are very few and powerless so we can ignore them. Currently there is no need for such a lobby yet. The government does not have any targets to reduce emissions; they signed the Kyoto protocol very late but did not agree to any commitment to reduce emissions since luckily for the state but not for us, in 2009 the Copenhagen summit collapsed. Before the summit our delegation was very concerned about the process because had there been an agreement in Copenhagen, Turkey would have come under commitments. But they were relieved at the collapse and after 2009, coal investments have gone up and now Turkey has more than 80 new coal power plant projects in the pipeline.

But at the 2015 Paris summit most probably there will be a new agreement that will come into effect after 2020 and the Environment Ministry is saying that if there is a critical mass, Turkey will be part of that. If Turkey decides to be part of it then we will start seeing deniers.

How do we feel the effects of climate change in Turkey?

The major effect of climate change is water stress and drought. Since October 2013 Turkey has been facing 17.4 percent less precipitation than normal. There is a very serious drought problem, and we are facing it more often than before. We can see this year a loss in agricultural production in the levels of 40 to 50 percent. This will have its effects on prices.

Drought is defined as a meteorological drought, and when it continues, then there are agricultural and hydrological phases. In Turkey we see the three phases together. The level has dropped to 16 percent in Istanbul’s reservoirs.

But interestingly we have not experienced sharp water cuts in Istanbul, for instance

This is because of the presidential elections. The government and the municipality did not want to show the existence of a problem and did not even warn people. They thought this would be perceived as a kind of failure of the administration. The government is very sensitive on that issue because this has been experienced in the past, so they consider it a phenomenon of a less developed country.

But this is like gambling. And they are still gambling. They believe that after September there will be rain and next winter there will be snow. If we don’t have enough rain and snow; next year will be worse than 2015; we will face more serious water problems.  They prefer to postpone the crisis. But by postponing it they are aggravating the crisis.

They did not have to make water cuts but they could at least warn people to use water more carefully. I think their plan is to supply all of Istanbul’s water from outside; this is very unecological and irrational. I believe they decided to sacrifice all of the forests and lakes of Istanbul because they think that water coming through pipes from outside of Istanbul will be enough.

If this is not the plan then you cannot explain why they are building the third airport in the water reservoir. In the coming years, Istanbul will be a city of 20 million without forests and without water reservoirs. Building the third bridge is the biggest damage inflicted by the government on this country. You can bring back everything, but not the forests.

Tell us what has been the line of the government on climate change.

Let me first say that another reasons why the Turkish government decided to put less emphasis on climate policies is the collapse of the EU process. One of the reasons Turkey signed Kyoto was because of the accession process. Now they don’t care about the EU.

The relevant ministries are working on climate change. At the bureaucratic level, there is awareness and work being done but they cannot pass their message on to the political level. They cannot do anything because there is no political will at all. They just do their technical work but they cannot change anything. The lack of political will is a decision. The government thinks that all kind of mitigation measures are exactly the opposite of their development policies. Their development policies are totally dependent on fossil fuels; more construction, and all of these crazy projects will for sure increase Turkey’s emissions much more than before. They decided to leave all these mitigation processes.

What is its international standing?

Turkey is not a denier country. Rhetoric-wise, strategy-wise – in all documents, there is a statement that climate change is important and we have to do something about it. But they want to play like an African country. [The message given to the international community] is that Turkey is not a country which is responsible for climate change and has a development right forever, meaning it’s like a free rider. They blame Western countries and say Turkey is innocent and that ‘we will do something, but the major responsibility is on Western countries.’

Yet, Turkey will be one of the major emitters in 2020. Per capita emissions will be more than the European average by 2020.

So basically Turkey is not doing anything about climate change.

If you want to do something about climate change you have to reduce your emissions. Turkey has the highest increase of carbon dioxide emission in the world after China.

So basically the lack of a consensus on climate change has left Turkey’s hand free for a development policy that doesn’t take any responsibility on emissions.

The collapse in Copenhagen opened the way for Turkey’s ambitious projects. Turkey had already gone down the path of an economic development model based on low technology and the destruction of natural resources. The decision to fast-forward these projects coincides with the collapse in 2009.

Had Turkey been part of an international regime, it would not have had its hands so free. With the exception of China, there is no country in the world with so many coal power plant projects.

Who is Ümit Şahin ?


Ümit Şahin is a senior scholar and Mercator-IPC Fellowship Program Climate Change juror at the Istanbul Policy Center. Şahin graduated from Cerrahpaşa Medical School in 1991 and recieved his Ph.D. degree in public health.

He is the editor-in-chief of the magazine Three Ecology. He is the co-producer of the Open Green radio program on Açık Radio. He edits and writes on ecological issues for the Green Newspaper and serves as a project adviser for the Green Thought Foundation.

He is one of the founders of the Association of the Doctors for the Environment, having served as the organization’s president between 2002 and 2006. In 2007, Şahin coordinated the “Turkey sign Kyoto!” campaign, which was carried out by Turkey’s Green Party.

Currently, Şahin is a council member for the Greens and Left Future Party.