Turkey’s environmental stewardship in 2022 and beyond

Turkey monumentally stepped up its “green development revolution” by ratifying the 2015 Paris climate agreement to minimize the devastating effects of climate change. The environmental disasters in the summer of 2021 and European Union lobbying pressured President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to initiate substantive measures urgently addressing climate change.

Turkey’s unanimous parliamentary ratification of the Paris deal was given momentum by Erdoğan statements at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), reinforcing Ankara’s unflinching environmental commitment as a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP21 in Paris.

The Paris ratification is a key cornerstone of Turkey’s 2023 green development goals, through which Turkey aims to fulfill its EU membership criteria, and its 2053 “Turkey model” vision of rights and justice prioritizing a net-zero carbon objective.

The ground-breaking ratification is a multilateral diplomatic triumph welcomed by the U.N.’s Alok Sharma, president of the COP26, who officially acknowledged Erdoğan’s efforts and Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change Minister Murat Kurum’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2053.

Climate diplomacy

The G-20 and Paris deal require ratifying nations to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and dropping them to net-zero by 2050. Average temperatures in Turkey are expected to rise by 2 degrees Celsius over the next decade, according to estimates by the Turkish State Meteorological Service (TSMS).

Many environmentalists believe that Turkey can realistically renew its climate change commitments of reducing emissions by a more ambitiously realistic 25% instead of 21%. This is important since Turkey ranks 16th among the countries causing most greenhouse gas emissions globally per-capita emission. To lower greenhouse gases, Turkey must initially launch short-term climate targets by 2053.

Environmental commitments

Turkey’s ratification was a prerequisite for commerce with European Union nations now facilitating Turkey-EU trade to boost a recovering economy. To best prepare for future trade with climate-sensitive EU partners, Ankara’s closer alignment with the European Green Deal, curbing emissions via production relocation and importing/exporting less carbon-intensive products is required.

The ratification complements Ankara’s global environmental acclaim as it’s already a signatory for the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, the Montreal Protocol, the Rotterdam Convention, the Stockholm Convention on Organic Pollutants, the Kyoto Protocol and the Barcelona Convention.

The Turkish Environmental Agency (TUÇA) under the Environment and Urbanization Ministry will conduct a zero-waste management project to boost the economy through recycling, complementing Turkey’s 2015 Regulation on Waste Management. First lady Emine Erdoğan’s Zero Waste Project recycles 24.2 million tons of trash nationwide aimed at a recycling recovery rate of 60% by 2035. In 2050, Turkey aspires to fully terminate waste disposal by storing it first.

Turkey continues to launch smart city initiatives, including energy-efficient, climate-sensitive residences throughout the country, mandating houses constructed by Turkey’s Housing Development Administration (TOKI) to institutionalize effective zero-waste practices via renewable energy resources.

TUÇA must now work closer with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) since they can leverage their expertise in pollution prevention, sustainable development and climate mitigation.

The Paris ratification also offers Turkey access to historically unprecedented international financial and technology support under the Paris Agreement.

The climate initiatives

In lieu of the ratification, Turkey will fully harmonize legislation with EU law and global environmental standards. Regulators must adopt a more stringent approach in issuing environmental licenses tightening and updating Turkey’s Regulation on Environmental Permits and Licenses from 2014.

Ankara is required to update its national climate action plan, officially called the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), including emission reduction targets specifically on the “energy, waste, transportation, buildings and agriculture” sectors and to submit them to the U.N. Secretariat.

The country must now prepare biannual climate reports with nationwide greenhouse gas inventories by submitting them to the Contract Secretariat. Under the deal, Turkey aspires to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 21% by 2030. Turkey will now have to constantly update national contributions tackling climate change every five years, where each update improves vis-a-vis the previous one.

Turkey will now revisit its national climate change action plan with medium-to-long-term targets for 2030 and 2050, set up a climate change research center driven by scientific data and create a climate change platform to share best practices and cutting-edge technologies.

In February 2021, a new climate road map called the “Fight Against Climate Change Declaration” was announced to support ecologically friendly production, encourage waste recycling, save water and regulate carbon pricing practices in line with the Paris Agreement’s economic incentives.

Turkey’s Nation’s Garden project covering 81 million square meters (871 million square feet) in 81 provinces empowers the country to increase green areas, including 207 new parks in Istanbul. Parks were also built in the cities like Batman, Bursa, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Sakarya, Samsun and Trabzon.

Turkey expands its protected preserved ecological sites through the ecological corridors project, creating wide green belts and corridors protected like the country’s forests.

The climate law

In the “Climate Summit Final Declaration,” Turkey committed to promulgate a climate law curbing the adverse impact of climate change. The climate bill presented to Parliament includes climate action plans for all seven specific regions of Turkey. These seven action plans strategically align the nation`s regions via climate change policies, legislative and technical criteria to prepare local climate change action plans for municipalities.

The proposed bill integrates targets and policies governing climate change, modernizing the climate change action plan for 2050, including mitigation strategies for sectors sensitive to climate change, notably industry, livestock breeding, agriculture, tourism and renewables. The law implements an emission trading system to compensate facilities investing in cleaner production technologies.

The Paris ratification implies that Turkey’s legislation will now be harmonized with the European Green Deal, an environmental change blueprint whereby all 27 EU states commit to making Europe the world’s first “climate neutral” continent by 2050 reducing emissions to 55% by 2030.

*Freelance writer and international advisor, @OzerKhalid on Twitter

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