Social and ecological problems intertwined in Turkey - Green Party co-spokeswoman

Challenges in Turkey's social sector include the complex, intertwined nature of social, ecological, and political problems, and green politics could provide a solution, newly established Green Party co-spokeswoman Emine Özkan told Ahval in a podcast.

"The solution to the ecological, economic, social and political crisis we’re in can only be found with the rise of a new political understanding,” she said.

“We can build our future with a green politics that protects the ecological balance against the exploitation of humans and nature, not with discriminating and repressive policies built on the polarisation of identities and authoritarian governments that destroy democracy."

People in Turkey have a vigorous history of demonstrating against projects backed by Turkish officials but decried by Turkish environmentalists, Özkan said.

Nationwide protests against plans to destroy Gezi Park, one of Istanbul’s few remaining green spaces, in 2013 provide the best-known example – but a new wave of grassroots environmentalist protests is growing in reaction to dozens of infrastructure megaprojects that are changing the economy and landscapes.

Another prominent case is Kanal Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's shipping waterway project designed to bypass Istanbul’s Bosporus Strait. The project has drawn strong opposition among professional organisations and NGOs which maintain that the canal poses a severely heightened risk for a large-scale earthquake expected in Istanbul, will damage the megacity’s last forest areas from development and harm marine life in the Marmara Sea.

"The hydroelectric power plants in the Black Sea region, Kanal Istanbul Project and other similar projects are among the most concrete examples of the problems we define in our party programme as 'ecocide',” Özkan said. “We are expressing the need for a ‘nature-centred’ approach, not a ‘human-centred’ one."

Turkish environmentalists applied the Interior Ministry on Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace, to establish the Green Party. They released a statement, titled “Our House Is on Fire! We shall put it out”, setting out the policies the party aims to achieve.

The party's programme includes very ambitious goals and principles, from a carbon-free economy to gender equality, the right to water and health, the right to education in the mother tongue, freedom of different beliefs and identities, as well as local and direct democracy.

The document sets out a "Green New Deal" – proposing measures from replacing fossil fuels to sustainable tourism, banning the use of pesticides, and investing in energy efficiency. 

"The COVID-19 outbreak cannot be considered separate from the global health problem we are experiencing today, the loss of biodiversity, the extinction of species, industrial agriculture and animal husbandry," Özkan said.

"The “Green New Deal” is emerging as a new alternative, one of its most important highlights is that the gross domestic product does not focus solely on human well-being and the economic activity itself."

Green politics have been on the rise around the world, particularly due to growing awareness of the unfolding climate crisis, such as a school strike movement led by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg that saw millions of young people taking the streets for more eco-friendly policies.

The Greens swept to their best-ever results in the 2019 European Parliament elections. Winning nearly 10 percent of seats, the group became the kingmakers in a more fragmented European Parliament, while the centre-right and centre-left – the institution’s two largest groups – saw their decades-old dominance collapse.

More than a year on, the European Union has adopted its greenest-ever agenda, with the promise of net-zero emissions by 2050 and a European Green Deal to transform the economy, underpinned by a target to spend nearly one-third of EU funds on climate change and the environment.

The Green Party plans to collaborate with the ecology movements and the political parties in Turkey, as well as with international movements against the climate crisis threatening the world, Özkan said.

"We are in direct relationship and communication with green parties in Europe. These parties achieved significant success and political representation both at the local and national level, she said. “This gives a great hope to grow this movement in Turkey."