Higher economic growth or more sustainable development for Turkey?

Higher economic growth or more sustainable development for Turkey?

Turkey may be one of the best countries to dig into one of the oldest dilemmas of economics: Does the country need to reach higher economic growth rates or maintain more sustainable development rates? 

You may ask the reason for putting this question under focus now. There is almost sort of a consensus saying that higher economic growth rates would be much better for Turkey as the more the money people earn, the higher the development figures the country will see. 

This hypothesis has, however, been a bit problematic as Turkey’s poor sustainable development scores, mainly in educational and life satisfaction levels, are threatening its economic growth potential. 

Let’s have a look at a fresh report by Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung on the basis of 34 indicators for the 17 future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across all OECD countries for 2030. The report was prepared to shed light on OECD countries’ positioning just ahead of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit this month. 

The report doesn’t offer great news for all OECD countries. 

“There is a danger that the targets for many indicators will be missed entirely. The greatest deficits of the industrialized nations lie in their less-than-sustainable production and consumption behavior. In addition, in many cases, their economic systems also exacerbate the trend toward social inequality,” says the study, which is the first one in the world to systematically investigate the present status of each of these countries, both individually and in comparison with one another. 

According to the study, countries that are best positioned to achieve the new U.N. goals are the four Scandinavian nations: Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, with Switzerland following in fifth place. 
The nations with the lowest ranking are the United States, Greece, Chile, Hungary, Turkey and Mexico.

Let’s dig into the details about Turkey: Turkey ranks second-last among the 34 countries across all dimensions of the SDG Index. For seven indicators, Turkey is among the top third, and in the top five for three. For over half of the measures, however, the country finds itself among the bottom third and, most alarmingly, in the bottom five for 16 indicators.

Turkey has demonstrated some success with the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity. Plus, a commendably low 4 percent of bird species in the country are threatened, far better than the 22 percent OECD average, according to the study. However, the country has designated only 2.3 percent of its terrestrial biomes as protected areas, while eight OECD countries are protecting at least 17 percent. Furthermore, the country’s fossil fuel energy production causes a comparatively low 4 tons of CO2 emissions per capita.

Turkey, however, ranks among the least successful OECD countries for ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being. Turkey has the shortest healthy life expectancy in the 34-country study. Turks, on average, can expect just 65 years of life lived in full health, a decade less than the average Japanese, according to the study. Based on self-reporting collected by Gallup, Turkey also ranks 30th on life satisfaction, although this has slightly improved in the three most recent survey years. Turkey’s performance in inclusive and equitable quality education and life-long learning is also worrying. In 2013, only 31.9 percent of Turks had completed at least upper secondary education, according to the study. Although this rate has risen in recent years, from 26.6 in 2007 and 28.4 in 2010 to 31.9 last year, it is still the lowest in the OECD. By comparison, the top five countries in the sample had completion rates of 90 percent or above.

“Coupled with an average PISA score at 35 points below the OECD mean, this means that Turkey’s education policies have much room for improvement,” said the study. 

These figures mean a lot in trying to find an answer why Turkey needs a completely new story, beyond a fresh economic story, as it is not likely for the country to succeed with these lower levels, especially with alarm bells heralding darker days ahead amid political uncertainties and security concerns.