Is it futile fighting for the environment in Turkey?

Is it futile fighting for the environment in Turkey?

Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports, known in Turkey by their acronym ÇED, became part of Turkish legislation in 1983, but it was another 10 years before they entered into force in 1993.

Since then, the regulation has been amended 17 times, most of them in the 2000s, during the Justice and Development Party (AKP) tenure.

If a law or a regulation changes several time in Turkey, that does not necessarily mean the amendments are done in order to improve the implementation. On the contrary, if you set aside the reform movement undertaken by AKP governments in the first half of the 2000s, most of the amendments made in the second part of the 2000s aimed at rather eroding the checks-and-balances mechanisms ingrained within the laws, rules and regulations and eliminating what is seen by the government as obstructions to giving it a free ride.

“ÇED reports were not initially designed as a preliminary permit to go ahead with a project but as a mechanism to show the way to decision-makers on the possible consequences of projects, so that they can take the necessary measures to prevent the negative consequences,” said Süheyla Suzan Alıca, an expert on environmental law. 

In other words, it was originally designed to present a “view.”

Most of the amendments created more problems in the implementation and provided stipulations that were not environmental friendly, according to Alıca, who spoke last week at a panel in Istanbul. Representatives of civil society organizations have taken amendments to court several times on claims that they were not aimed at protecting the environment.

In 2006, the Council of State decided that the reports were not views but decisions. That was an important turning point in terms of the reports, because seeking a ÇED came to be recognized as a “precondition” or a “preliminary green light” to go ahead with a project that might have some impact on the environment.

But ever since, ÇED mechanisms have been perceived as an obstruction process to development. And if one recalls how development carries crucial importance for the ruling party, whose name includes “development,” then it won’t be too difficult to imagine that ÇED mechanisms were not implemented duly in accordance with their original aim. 

The institution responsible for deciding on a ÇED is the Environment and Urbanization Ministry. It decides whether a ÇED report is required for the project or not and whether the ÇED is positive or negative.

From 1993 until 2016, only 32 of 4,352 ÇED reports have been negative, according to information provided by the ministry. 

The ministry decided that 51,200 of the 51,977 projects evaluated between 1993 and Dec. 31, 2015, did not require a ÇED.

The facts speaks for themselves, and it is not too difficult to realize that the implementation of a ÇED works most of the time against the protection of the environment.

All the efforts by NGOs in Turkey to protect nature against the AKP’s insatiable lust for construction are swimming against a strong tide.

Take the case of “meetings with the participation of the people.”

The ÇED process requires the organization of a meeting where locals in the area which might be affected by the investment are asked to voice their views. It is revolutionary since there is no other rule or regulation that makes such meetings compulsory.

But those meetings have turned into big controversial events. “Most of the time, the meeting halls are filled by people hired by the companies who are supposed to make the investment and as representatives of civil initiatives, we are not even let inside the meeting hall; local authorities tell us there is no space left inside,” said Süheyla Doğan from the Association for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Assets of Kazdağı, a region threatened by mining companies.

“Most of the time we end up obstructing the meeting, making it impossible to organize the meeting. But actually we are also debating whether preventing a meeting from taking place is the right thing to do.”

One gets really desperate listening to the frustration of NGOs working for the protection of the environment.

One almost wonders what the use of staging a struggle during the ÇED process is when assuming that the outcomes are usually against the environmentalist camp.

Yet despite their frustration, NGO representatives value the existence of the process since it has become the only tool by which citizens can be informed about projects that will have an environmental impact. Had it not been for the ÇED mechanisms, the public would have learned about many projects after their completion.

World Wildlife Fund Turkey does value the importance of ÇED mechanisms. Through funding they acquired from the European Union, WWF Turkey assumed the leadership of a project that also includes other regional countries in addition to Turkey that will further empower the NGOs in their involvement in the ÇED process.

Some 26 NGOs have been selected from Turkey, as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, to benefit from 252,000 euros in financial support. These NGOs will certainly benefit from each other’s experiences.

One feels tremendous respect for the NGOs that are struggling with modest means against powerful giants who are destroying our nature. 

We owe them a debt of gratitude.