Is a More Democratic Country Always a Greener One?

turkish parliament grand national assembly photo

The Turkish parliament. Photo via Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi

The package of constitutional reforms signed by Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Wednesday dominated the news agenda in the country as it progressed through vote after vote in parliament, with politicians and the public debating the effects the changes might have on Turkey's military, courts, and politics. One thing they didn't seem to have the potential to affect, though, was the environment -- or so I thought.Mustafa Öztürk, the deputy chairman of parliament's Environment Commission, sees things differently. As he told the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman earlier this month:

"If the reform package is approved, that will provide the power to increase environmental awareness. This is the way it happens in the world. Under the framework of democratization, all institutions will become transparent and accountable. Therefore, citizens will be able to question the decisions made."

68 Billion Euros Needed for Turkey's Environment
This assumes, of course, that the reforms will actually enhance democratic freedoms, as supporters argue, rather than simply consolidate the current government's power -- the crux of the debate over the constitutional amendments. (Both Öztürk, a member of the governing party, and the generally conservative newspaper in which his comments were published have an interest in promoting the first viewpoint.)

If the reforms are seen outside Turkey as creating a more democratic environment, Öztürk is likely correct that it will help the country attract more foreign investment -- including some of the 68 billion euros he says is needed for environmental infrastructure, including proper waste disposal.

European Union Support
The most likely source for much of that funding is the European Union, which Turkey seeks to join. According to the same newspaper, the EU "welcomes" the constitutional amendments, though it will reportedly also call for further progress to be made on human rights, the Cyprus issue, and fighting corruption. Given the European Union's strong track record on ecological protection -- especially compared to Turkey -- closer ties with the bloc augur well for the environment.

Öztürk's premise remains an interesting one to consider, however, and not just for Turkey: Does the expansion of democracy and basic rights and freedoms necessarily, or even generally, lead to increased environmental sensitivity?

The U.S. and Europe are often held up as examples of this theory, but China seems to be moving forward environmentally in some ways without significant advances in democratization. And citizens of democratic but poor countries may have more urgent needs to press their government to meet. TreeHugger readers, what do you think: Putting its many other pluses aside, is democracy a necessary -- and sufficient -- condition for a nation to become greener?

More about politics and the environment:
Clueless on Following Green Politics? Try These Sources
Green as Good Politics: Seoul Mayor Stakes Reelection on Clean Air Policy, Ambitious EV Plan
Green Politics, NIMBYism & EVs: LlewTube Meets Chris Goodall (Video)
Best and Worst of 2009: The Year in Climate Change Politics
Australia: The Politics of Environment - A Brief Round-Up
Best of Green: Business and Politics (Slideshow)
We Need a New Green Politics! James Gustave Speth on The Change Needed in the Environmental Movement

Related Content on