‘We don’t have good journalists,’ says Turkey’s chief negotiator

‘We don’t have good journalists,’ says Turkey’s chief negotiator

The 22nd United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP22) took place last month in Marakesh.

It was the first follow-up to the 21st conference in Paris where an agreement was reached.

The followers of the Turkish press have not read much about it. Some might think this is due to the intensity of Turkey’s agenda.

Mehmet Emin Birpınar, Turkey’s chief negotiator for the climate change talks, might think differently.

Mr. Birpınar addressed a conference on Dec. 5 that was organized by TÜSİAD on the outcomes of COP22.

 While answering a question, he started to talk about the role of the media. “We don’t have good journalists and good lawyers in Turkey. So we [the bureaucracy] do whatever we want. They don’t ask questions. If we had good journalists and good lawyers, we could be at a better point.”

Mr. Birpınar was appointed as chief negotiator 20 months ago. You would expect negotiators to excel in the language of diplomacy. But we are at a time where diplomatic language is looked down by the governing elites of this country; on the contrary, one has to be blunt and a bully to get what one wants. 

Look what Mr. Birpınar told his Western interlocutors to convince them why Turkey should not be considered as a developed country, which would have forced the government to agree to higher commitments to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. “You can put travel visas on us, but you can’t impose visas to prevent pollution.”
What basically Turkey says is this:

“When climate change talks started decades ago, I agreed to be recognized as a developed country. Forget about that. I need to grow fast and I need to use cheap and [therefore the most polluting type] of energy. If you want me to use clean energy, then I need financial and technical assistance, which is provided for developing countries.”

Turkey blocked the agreement in Paris as it could not secure financial assistance, according to Birpınar. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, finally gave his consent when French President François Hollande called him twice, promising that he would personally work to secure financial assistance. Hollande did not keep his promise, said Birpınar.

“Some 115 countries have passed the Paris Treaty in their parliaments. We signed it but it is not yet on our agenda to pass it in parliament. Our struggle continues. This is not just an issue about the environment. For some, it is seen as an obstruction in front of industries. We need to find a consensus within the country,” he said.

Read this as: “we need the consent of the Energy Ministry, which is not willing to give up on fossil fuel energy resources.”

For the representatives of civil society that have been monitoring the government’s climate change policy, the focus on financial and technical assistance is just a cover to make the least possible commitment on mitigating emissions.

Birpınar himself has admitted that while Turkey insists on getting green funds, it is aware that money in the billions of dollars is not available at all. “What’s important is that we become eligible for these funds,” he said, something that will make Turkey’s call to not be recognized as a developed country more legitimate. But how can Turkey become eligible for climate change funds when it refuses to ratify the main treaty on climate change?

It seems that the Turkish “diplomatic upper mind” wants to first secure the eligibility for the funds and then ratify the treaty as if it were doing a favor to foreigners, completely ignoring the fact that polluting the environment is destructive first and foremost for our own country. 

There are many questions that good journalists can ask. The problem is that it is this government that has choked good journalism. Mr. Birpınar could have used a more diplomatic language and said, “It is to our common good and national interest to have good, efficient, investigative journalism as part of the general checks and balances system.” 

When he just said “we have no good journalists,” he got his answer from veteran journalist Meral Tamer, who said good journalists are jobless precisely because they were fired for having done good journalism.