Turkey, the lone wolf of the climate change summit

Turkey, the lone wolf of the climate change summit

This time Turkey was a more active or, let’s say, a more visible participant in the climate change talks, said Ethemcan Turhan, who was in Paris during the two week summit that finally ended with an agreement.

In the past, Turkey usually would talk on the last day and repeat its same line asking for her special conditions to be recognized.

The fact that France has chosen to start COP21 with a summit at the level of heads of states and governments proved to be a good decision as it seems to have motivated countries to more actively participate.  With 149 members, Turkey’s official delegation, which was the 27th biggest among 195, was involved from the process’s beginning. The fact that Turkey has offered to host COP26, which will take place in 2020, was also seen as a positive step in the right direction.

But it seems the delegation’s efforts were more focused on Turkey’s own specific agenda than contributing to international efforts to reach an agreement.  And it seems that this position has forced Turkey to stands on its own, without being a part of any group of countries. 

For years, opinion polls have shown how Turks, feeling estranged from the East and the West, opt for an independent line in foreign policy without being party to an overarching alliance. What the world has witnessed in Paris watching the Turkish delegation seems to be truly the “lone wolf syndrome” in action. 

In addition to the already existing alliances like “umbrella group” and the G77+China, COP21 saw new alliances of countries, said Turhan, a researcher at the Istanbul Policy Center, like Vulnerable-20 or the “high ambition coalition.”  Even Ukraine and Belarus, whom Turkey tried to convince to join hands, have defected to the high ambition coalition, said Turhan. 

In the last two days of the meeting as the COP21 president Laurent Fabius wanted to gain time, he decided to give the floor only to groups, which deprived Turkey of the floor and sparking its objection. 

“Turkey was like the lone wolf; it had the image of an isolated country,” said Turhan. “In its latest intervention, Turkey asked for her special conditions to be recognized. But while 190 plus countries were trying to agree on a framework for the future, it was not possible to have a special clause for Turkey,” he added.

But at least Turkey has secured a pledge from Fabius to conduct consultations on that issue. 

According to Turhan, Turkey’s main aim at the Paris summit was to secure financial assistance for its mitigation efforts. But as Turkey is classified as an OECD country, this stands as a highly ambitious target. And Turkey must sound quite obnoxious to some countries. 

On the one hand, there is a Turkey that brags about being among the biggest 20 economies in the world, becoming the biggest donor to countries in need, an influential regional power with global aspirations, etc.

But when it comes to global warming, it chooses to be neither a global nor a regional player and walks around as a beggar, saying it needs assistance.

Turkey can’t have its cake and eat it too. “The summit in Turkey needs to be more than congress tourism,” warns Turhan.  Turkey has to get much more serious in endorsing a policy for the much required economic transformation that will decrease its greenhouse gas emission levels.  In the short term, it might look as if the lone wolf strategy in climate change will pay off, but in the mid to long term it will be harmful and costly.