'Just Talk' from Turkey at Copenhagen, Activists Say

© Georgie Benardete
Turkish youth protest their country's reliance on coal outside the Copenhagen summit.

Though President Abdullah Gül and other Turkish officials came to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen under the banner "Turkey is part of the solution," you can add Turkish environmentalists to the long list of people disenchanted by the wishy-washy outcome of the global summit.

Members of the country's green groups say their government paid lip service to climate concerns while showing no signs of backing down from its plans to develop nuclear energy and further utilize coal power.

Environmental Groups Cut Out Of The Process
"We have clearly seen that environmental organizations do not have a place in the government's decision-making process," said Devin Bahçeci from Turkey's Green Party. Referring to the tiny island nation that pushed China and India to commit to emissions cuts, he added, "Tuvalu shouts, but Turkey just talks."

Turkey's national strategy document calls for an energy-related emissions reduction of just 7 percent by 2020, far lower than the 15 to 30 percent suggested for similar countries -- and an amount necessary to keep pace with Turkey's rapidly increasing urbanization, industrialization, and greenhouse-gas emissions, which have more than doubled since 1990. Stricter reductions would also help Turkey as it tries to become a member of the European Union, a negotiation process that is next expected to address environmental issues.

Conspicuous Consumption On The Rise
"Although Turkey does not contribute to climate change as much as developed countries do, if it doesn't take the necessary precautions, it will soon become a sizable part of the problem. The country has rapidly evolved from an underdeveloped economy into one of conspicuous consumption that totally lacks environmental awareness," columnist Cengiz Aktar wrote in the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, calling the government's climate strategy document "an unbelievable example of ignorance" for promoting nuclear energy, coal, and hydroelectric dams as responsible alternatives to oil and failing to address the pollution created by the country's livestock and transportation industries.

Environmentalists were also unhappy that the Turkish delegation's presentation at the Copenhagen event included representatives from the business sector, while excluding those from NGOs. Concern about the potential effects of any climate-related measures on the country's economy and business interests has been a major obstacle in Turkey, though the country risks losses to its tourism industry, among other sectors, due to global warming itself.

Economy vs. Environment?
While the government opposes any measures that might slow economic growth, a recent report by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council, "Energy [R]evolution," shows that a switch to renewable-energy sources and improved energy efficiency would reduce costs in the medium-term.

"There is no such choice between climate and economy," said Hilal Atıcı, the climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Mediterranean. "If we adopt a longer [term] vision, we can both protect our climate with clean energy technologies, guarantee energy security for our economy, and provide cheaper energy to our people."

Maintaining The Status Quo
The head of an important business organization had previously agreed with Atıcı, at least in principle. "We are aware that taking measures will annually cost 1 percent of gross domestic product globally, [but will] bring significant economic advantages and opportunities," said Arzuhan Doğan Yalçındağ, chairwoman of the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD). "We should take measures to start the shift to a low-carbon economy as soon as possible."

Still, Yalçındağ cautioned against "taking on more obligation than our industry and economy can handle," the argument at the center of the debate over Turkey's role in any climate treaty.

Turkey Exempted From Emissions-Reduction Commitments
Though Turkey was included as an Annex I country under the Kyoto Protocol, which it ratified this spring, as what President Gül calls a "middle-income developing country," it was exempted from making any commitments to reduce emissions.

While some had hoped that Turkey might help forge a new category of transitioning countries at Copenhagen, the end result reportedly maintained the status quo -- a situation that will effectively keep Turkey from receiving the financial and technical support Gül said the country needs to fight climate change.

More On Environmental Activism In Turkey
Turks Take to the Streets, and the Sea, to Demand Action on Global Warming
Academics, Activists Tackle Climate Change in Turkey
Turkey's Greens Target Parliament, Smaller Istanbul
Turkish Locals: No More Coastal Concrete Jungles!
Don't Leave Us Homeless, Turkish Villagers Say
Turkey Report: Little to Cheer on World Enviro Day
Obama Challenged on Climate During Turkey Trip

Tags: Coal | Copenhagen | Global Climate Change | Turkey

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