What’s in a signature? The Paris Agreement and Turkey’s position

What’s in a signature? The Paris Agreement and Turkey’s position

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has extended an invitation to world leaders to the signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement on April 22. The Paris Agreement was reached last December in Paris on how to respond to global climate change. The United Nations defines the treaty as “historic” and a lot of people find it largely successful. The agreement was reached at the COP21, the 21st of the regular get-togethers of the climate change regime organized by the UNFCC framework and attended by nation-states and officially accredited representatives of civil society organizations. 

Compared to the COP15 in Copenhagen where there were high expectations of an agreement that would set a road map for urgently needed climate action, the Paris Agreement may be considered a success. At least there is an agreement at hand. This agreement also sets a target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees and even mentions 1.5 degrees as a goal to strive for, if possible. The agreement also endorses 100 percent renewable energy. Its main weakness is the fact that the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) promised by states are first not sufficient to limit increasing temperature to 2 degrees and second, not binding. Nevertheless, it is important that the Paris Agreement has substantially delegitimized fossil fuel investments. The next crucial question is whether it will take effect. At least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have to ratify the agreement for it to take legal effect.
Will Turkey sign up? It did indicate its intention to sign the agreement. If it signs, a long and winding road lies ahead. Turkey is responsible for 0.94 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. This may not seem much but compared to 1990, Turkey had increased its emissions by 110 percent by 2013, making it one of the top 20 emitters in the world. What is more worrying is that around 75 new thermal power plants are planned in Turkey, some of which are already in the process of construction. If all are completed, Turkey will have the world’s fourth highest number of coal power plants, after China, India and Russia. Since the use of coal is the primary cause of climate change, the new plants will increase Turkey’s emissions even further. It is estimated that the emissions of the new coal plants will be almost as high as Turkey’s current total annual emissions.  Hence, signing the agreement will have to mean a substantial policy shift for Turkey from carbon-intensive, unsustainable energy choices toward renewable energy if it is to cut down its emissions. 

And what if it does not? Given Turkey’s highly carbon dependent growth path, it is also possible that Turkey may refrain from signing the agreement because of the obligations it will have to assume. In that case, a new campaign to get Turkey to sign will most likely be launched by civil society actors. There are many environmental organizations working on climate change. They have formed a platform (e.g. the climate network), organized a campaign (the “for climate” campaign), held debates (e.g. the climate forum), and been involved in various projects. They also collaborated at COP21, producing the Climate Post. A few ecological mobilizations have started incorporating the issue of climate change in their activism. Crucially, civil society organized at the local, national and transnational levels have chosen the year 2016 to intensify mobilization against coal plants. The coal attack in Turkey has been a means of invigorating the climate agenda. A lot of organizations that work at the national level have reached out to local movements, which have formed in various locations where there are either constructions or plans for construction of new coal power plants. They are joining the global campaign Breakfree to stop fossil fuels. In that respect, they have launched the Initiative Against Fossil Fuels. 

In short, civil society has been actively working on climate change in the period leading up to and right after the COP21. It is expected to do so in the post-Paris period. One campaign they may become busy with could be to get Turkey to sign the Paris Agreement if it fails to do so on April 22.

Hande Paker is a 2015/2016 Mercator-IPC fellow who is currently working as a research fellow at Sabancı University.