'Turkey urgently needs a sustainable development strategy'

'Turkey urgently needs a sustainable development strategy'

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey urgently needs a sustainable development strategy

Some in Turkey believe sustainability is about 'continuation,' while others believe it is just about the environment, but Professor Volkan Ediger says both interpretations are inadequate. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

Turkey urgently needs to formulate a sustainable development strategy, according to Professor Volkan Ediger, the head of the Energy and Climate Foundation (ENİVA) think tank.

The first step in formulating this strategy is to have scientific research on the effects of climate change in Turkey, as the existing scientific data on the issue is very limited in Turkey, Ediger said. 

Sustainability is the key concept in the new economic development model that the world is endorsing, yet this concept is misunderstood in Turkey, according to the ENİVA head, who is one of the authors of a recent report on climate change and sustainable development in Turkey published by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

What is the essential picture when we talk about the effects of climate change in Turkey?

The picture is rather grim. Together with the United States, we were the only two countries not to have signed the Kyoto protocol, which brought about a commitment to decrease the carbon monoxide emissions of OECD countries. We became a member of the OECD not because of our economic performance, but due to geostrategic reasons. So we therefore kept objecting to that requirement, arguing that our energy intensity, which is the total energy consumption per dollar of GDP, is low in Turkey compare to other developed countries. We asked for exemptions, saying our individual energy consumption is a quarter of Europe’s and one seventh of the United States’. This was only accepted after long negotiations, and actually the Kyoto protocol is no longer valid. That has made us lose a lot of time. Which means that we were unable to gain experience and we could not get institutionalized. Actually our share of total greenhouse gas emissions is currently very low, at 0.9 percent.
So we are one the countries that is polluting the world less, despite the fact that we have been registering high growth levels like China.

Yes, but our growth level is not comparable to China in terms of the size of the economy. China’s share of C02 emissions) is 28 percent, while the U.S.’s share is 17 percent. Ours is very low, which makes us think that this is not so important. But the pace for (increased CO2 emissions) is very fast.

This means our potential for polluting the world is growing very fast.

That’s right, because we are one of the countries with the fastest growth of energy consumption. So we urgently need to institutionalize. An integrated unit with the energy, environment and foreign ministries should be established, not on climate change but rather on sustainability. But first and foremost we need our science people to work on climate change, to produce our own scientific data. Climate change won’t have the same effects on each country, it’s important to have results from our own researches in order for policy makers to work on it.

Do you claim that we lack scientific data in Turkey about climate change?

It is very limited. One of the first reports was issued by a parliamentary commission in April 2008. It ends with general conclusions, such as stating that Turkey is among the risky group. The 2010 national climate change strategy document makes a reference to the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) assessment, which put Turkey in the Mediterranean region that would be among the most affected by climate change. This shows we don’t even have our proper assessment. The IPPC’s first working group will soon issue its report. There are 68 scientists from the U.S., 28 from the U.K., and 18 from China. Of the 44 countries represented in the group, there is only one person from Turkey.
The state urgently needs to tackle this issue. The world is on the verge of a new economic revolution, there is a new economic development model and Turkey should not miss out on it. Some call it green development, some call it green growth. I think “sustainability” is the best word to describe it. Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In this concept there are two main things: one of them is that not private but public interest should be important, and that not the present but the future is important. But this is misunderstood in Turkey. When you look to the translation, I think the wrong word is used.

The Turkish word puts the emphasis on “continuity.”

Definitely. Some people in Turkey take this as longevity. My company was established in 1865 has been there for three generations. For others it means the environment; if it is an environmentally friendly company they think it is sustainable. Both are wrong.

So let’s talk about sustainable energy development.

One component should be energy efficiency. We could have an additional 30 percent of energy generation if we were to put the emphasis on efficiency. Another component is to use domestic resources. This is very important for Turkey because we are importing 75 percent of what we consume every year. We are paying more than $60 billion-per-year. We are producing only one quarter of what we consume every year and this is too low, and is the most important obstacle in front of Turkey’s development. We need to put the emphasis on renewable energy. On fossil fuels, 93 percent of imports depend on oil and 98 percent of imports depend on gas. The biggest energy resource we have is lignite, but there are tremendous problems with that. Despite its disadvantages, this is the only energy source we have, so we have to use it and try to solve the problems by using clean coal technology.

If we look to the Energy Ministry’s organization chart we see that they opened a new renewable energy directorate in 2011, with four sub departments: Renewable energy, energy efficiency, new technologies, and climate change. This is a step in the right direction, though I wished they had called it the sustainable energy directorate.

How do you see the direction of these sub categories?

When we look at renewable energy; we see that the government encourages the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources. The government promises to buy electricity from higher prices if it is generated by renewables, and the price increases if domestic technology is used. If we buy the technology from other countries then it does not make any sense. Are we successful on that? When we look at the data from 2008 to 2012 there is not a single company that used domestic technology.

What does this tell us?

We are not successful in developing technology for renewable energy. We don’t have an innovative, entrepreneurial domestic industry. We have this problem in all the sectors. Renewable energy is definitely not the only solution, but what should be the right mix needs a lot more scientific study. Unfortunately, the ties between policymakers in Turkey and the science world are almost nonexistent.


Volkan Ş. Ediger graduated from the Geological Engineering Department of Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in Ankara in 1976. He subsequently received an MS degree from the same university and a PhD degree from Pennsylvania State University (PSU) with summa cum laude.

Ediger’s industrial experience was gained from participating, directing and advising several domestic and international R&D projects from 1977 to 1998 at the Research Center of the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO). 

Between 1998 and 2010, he was the first person to hold the newly created position of the energy adviser to the Turkish president, providing him the opportunity to work with three successive presidents. 

He is currently the head of the Energy Systems Engineering Department at Kadir Has University.