Public awareness key in fight against climate change: UNDP

Public awareness key in fight against climate change: UNDP

Hazal Özcan – ANKARA
Public awareness key in fight against climate change: UNDP

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The fight against climate change has dominated global attention for many years, but public awareness is lacking in terms of action in Turkey, according to an official from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Moves to “improve the awareness of citizens and, especially, young people” are missing from Turkey’s climate action plan, Claudio Tomasi, the UNDP’s Turkey resident representative, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.

For countries around the world, climate change is no longer just a future threat, as the globe feels the profound effects of events such as the Australian fires, which have burnt more than 5 million hectares of land and killed 17 people and hundreds of thousands animals.

Global warming has also displaced millions of people in Central Asia and raised alarms all over the world – even in Antarctica, which has been experiencing record-high temperatures.

The issue could become more critical, with scientists noting the longer countries wait to cut emissions, the harder it will be to meet the temperature target agreed in the Paris climate accord.

Without question, climate change, pollution, erosion, land degradation and the loss of biodiversity have also seriously impacted Turkey.

That’s why it is critical to increase public awareness in the country, Tomasi said.

“It is only by creating and raising this awareness that citizens and young people will become knowledgeable about what this global commitment is or, more importantly, what his or her personal specific role in that is,” he said on the sidelines of an event marking a memorandum of understanding between the UNDP and the Turkish Basketball Federation (TBF).

The deal marks the first time the UNDP has brokered an agreement with a sports federation in the country. The specific aim of the agreement is to raise public awareness in the country and overhaul the behavioral patterns of individuals in the fight against climate change.

Being part of the problem or the solution

According to Tomasi, the actions of individuals determine whether one contributes to the solution of the problem of climate change. Even taking “simple” steps, such as increasing one’s energy efficiency, can be a determining factor, he said.

“If millions or billions of people abuse the use of energy or don’t bring their own bag or ask for a recycled bag, that makes a difference,” he said, noting that millions of such actions every day contribute to the problem. “But if you take the right action, you contribute to the solution.”

Taking individual action is also important as it sends a message to the private sector, Tomasi said. “You basically create demand for the private sector.”

Public awareness key in fight against climate change: UNDPIndividual action not only influences consumer behavior, thus impacting the private sector, but also sends an “important message” to policymakers, according to the representative.

“That is the reason why we decided to partner with sports and, in particular initially, [basketball] in order to carry out this awareness campaign around this issue,” he said.

“We really believe this will help to create an ecosystem in which it is easier for decision-makers to take the right decision for the public, their business models and for citizens to live in a better society and environment,” he added.

Energy efficiency important for Turkey

Regarding the steps Turkey can take on climate action, Tomasi said energy consumption was “very important.”

“Since Turkey is a populous country and also a high-level income country – it’s entering the very high human development index [this year] – energy consumption is a very important issue because industrialized countries, or advanced countries, are the ones making the most use of energy as their economic growth is higher,” he said.

“Therefore, energy efficiency is very important for Turkey, and Turkey is doing [well] in this sense,” he added.

Turkey is highly dependent on natural gas for its domestic energy consumption, while its import costs account for a big share of the energy budget. As a result, the country is now focusing on renewable energy.

In this, the UNDP representative noted that it was critical to invest in solar energy and wind power. “Definitely, energy efficiency and renewable energy are the right steps in the right direction.”

In terms of increasing investment in renewable energy, Tomasi said both the private sector and government policies have influence.

“A very good example internationally is Germany in the sense of how public policy can trigger private initiatives in this direction but also how private initiative can trigger public policy,” he said.

When asked what Turkey could do to fight global warming, the representative said, “Of course, more can be done.”

“In Turkey, like in any other country of the world … we are very much behind schedule if we want to meet the [U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals] and the climate global commitment,” he said.

Tomasi added that no country was on pace to achieve its climate change goals.

“This is very much a series of actions and efforts that we must take on the global level. I’m talking about international organizations, nation-states, public institutions, the private sector and citizens,” he said.

The last marathon U.N. climate change talks in December 2019 ended with “disappointment” with major polluters resisting calls for accelerating efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to keep global warming at bay.

“The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation, and finance to tackle the climate crisis,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said. “We must not give up, and I will not give up.”

The final declaration cited an “urgent need” to cut planet-heating greenhouse gases in line with the goals of the landmark 2015 Paris climate change accord. But it fell far short of explicitly demanding that countries submit bolder emissions proposals next year, which developing countries and environmentalists had demanded.

The Paris accord established a common goal of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. So far, the world is on course for a 3- to 4-degree Celsius rise, with potentially dramatic consequences for many countries, including rising sea levels and fiercer storms.