Why hasn’t Turkey signed up to the Paris climate accord?

Turkey is one of only six countries yet to ratify the Paris climate accord. The other states that have failed to sign up are mainly big oil exporters, and Turkey remains the only member of the G20 to have not endorsed the deal after Russia did so in 2019.

According to Hurriyet Daily News, Erdoğan blames Europe for Turkey not ratifying the deal. “France and Germany had promised to work to include Turkey among developing countries but that they never kept their pledge,” he told journalists late last year.   

At the 2017 G20 summit in Germany, Erdoğan suggested Turkey could quit the deal, using the Trump administration’s hostility to the accord to demand more money from developed nations. And at the time, the Financial Times reported “diplomats in Berlin believe that the Turkish leader may have wanted to embarrass German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, after her government banned him from addressing Hamburg’s large Turkish community”.

A group of 37 Turkish NGOs is now trying to encourage the Turkish government to ratify the climate agreement. But Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency recently said Turkey was still unhappy about its categorisation as a ‘developed country’.

NGO leaders like Bengisu Özenç, director of the Sustainable Economic and Financial Research Association (SEFIA) are concerned that, by stalling on ratification, Turkey is falling behind in its struggle to reduce carbon emissions.

"A total of 98 countries are discussing the creation of their targets. While climate targets are redefining international relations, unfortunately, Turkey is not among these groups. The first step for Turkey to be a part of this global agenda is to ratify the agreement without losing more time," Özenç said.

The Turkish government does not have a great track record of protecting the environment. Erdoğan is notorious for not letting nature or important archaeological finds get in the way of building the megaprojects so important to his image as the leader responsible for Turkey’s economic progress.

Turkey still has no national recycling programme, and over the last few years, a series of high profile campaigns have exposed how companies have destroyed important natural habitats like Mount Ida in the pursuit of profits.
According to the OECD’s 2019 environmental performance review of Turkey, the country has rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuels represent 88 percent of Turkey’s total energy mix, despite the huge potential for increasing renewable resources.

Over 90 percent of Turkey’s waste goes to landfill, a far greater percentage than the OECD average.

There does appear to be growing recognition of the international climate emergency in Turkey, and that the country should take steps to tackle it. A new Green Party was formed in 2020, and young Turkish people are engaging in activism similar to Greta Thunberg.

There also seems to be some movement from the Turkish government itself. On Feb. 17, Environment and Urban Development Minister Murat Kurum introduced the Fight Against Climate Change Declaration. 

Pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper reported: “Last month, the government held a comprehensive workshop to compile the declaration, on the topics of carbon pricing, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the Paris agreement - an international deal introduced in 2016 for action against climate change - incentives and financial mechanisms.”

Although vague, the government’s plan involves increasing recycling to 60 percent by 2035, and generating more renewable electricity, and has the apparent backing of Turkish First Lady Emine Erdoğan. 

However, despite this positive rhetoric, there remains the matter of Turkey’s efforts to access gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, and the recent discovery of hydrocarbons in the Black Sea. 

Bringing online further fossil fuel resources will tie Turkey’s economy to oil and gas for the foreseeable future, and reduce the pressure to move towards renewable resources.

What is needed is action, rather than vague words. There is no reason why Turkey could not put the same level of nationalistic commitment into creating a green energy revolution as it puts into the construction of a third airport (currently sitting empty), a giant new mosque or a new Istanbul canal. All thtat's missing is the political willpower.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.