President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a historical speech at the Climate Action Summit on the opening day of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly. It was an amazing speech. Unfortunately, it did not make the headlines in Turkey. Nobody objected to Erdoğan's words, but for some reason, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg became top news in the country. And somehow, 16 young people taking five countries to court, among them Turkey, became the top issue, as though 200,000 trees haven't been cut down in the Kaz Mountains, and as if there haven't been floods across the country and extensive plans for construction at Salda Lake.
Fossil fuel promotion at the climate summit
"We spread the use of natural gas instead of solid fuels in 81 provinces, including Istanbul," Erdoğan said, and presented using fossil fuels as a form of climate action at a climate summit. Can anything be more historical than presenting fossil fuels as a solution at a climate meeting? Surely, as we missed this, we could not talk about tripling natural gas consumption, doubling coal production and tripling coal imports during his government's tenure—because no one cared about that side of the issue.
Erdoğan also talked about how the share of renewable energy in Turkey is now at 30 percent and how it will increase to 39 percent in 2023. But he did not mention that by renewable energy, he means hydroelectric power plants.
He said we are lowering the risk of disasters, but he did not mention how we are number four globally in cement production at 84 million metric tons per year, nor did he mention how every valley in the Black Sea region is now a prime location for disasters due to the overuse of cement and asphalt.
Erdoğan spoke about public park projects and their goal of rapidly increasing green areas, and therefore carbon sink capacity. It was a historical sentence, describing concrete gardens as carbon sinks at a climate summit. No one batted an eye.
He said the government has increased forest areas, and will plant 11 million trees on November 11, but forgot to mention how 200,000 trees were cut down just for one gold mine. He also thought we weren't aware of studies showing how forests are increasing where there is less income and decreasing in areas with income growth and more people.
More accidents, more cars, more waste
He said they are building new metro lines, but forgot to talk about why rail constructions projects are always late, why Haydarpaşa station has been closed since 2013, and why the bridge and tunnel companies are promised the passage of a certain number of vehicles.
He said the passenger transportation share of trains will rise from one percent to four, and freight transportation will rise from five percent to 10. But he did not say railways carried more passengers and cargo 10 years ago. He did not talk about how rail transport has shrunk, how there are no more work safety policies or how many accidents we witnessed just last year.
He said plastic bag usage is down 75 percent. However he did not speak of the 2.7 million tons of plastic waste buried last year. He could not have said about the plastic in landfills, "We buried the equivalent of 30 times the decrease in plastic bags."
He said 400,000 buildings will be in the zero waste system by 2023. Which means he did not say that only two percent of buildings will be zero waste, and the remaining 98 percent will still produce lots of waste. He added that the recycling ratio of all waste is 13 percent, which is the same as admitting 87 percent of waste is buried.
Bicycle lane investment
Bicycle routes are one of the most important investment areas, he said, and that they will have total length of 4,000 kilometers by 2023. But as he was saying this, he could not have thought that no one in cities would have access to these routes while cars go at 82 kilometers per hour in urban areas. Plus, by saying "investment area," he showed that this is not a matter of function, but of finance, and that we are the means to an end.
He said we are preparing climate action plans for every type of regional geography. He did not say how many new construction projects are included in the plan for the Black Sea. He did not mention that it is still permitted to build houses on riverbeds.
TOKI model for the world
Before Erdoğan's speech, the Minister of City Planning attended the "Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action Working Group." The results of the group we co-chaired with Kenya were later publicized. According to the report, through the "Zero Carbon Buildings Initiative," new buildings will be zero carbon by 2030, and all remaining buildings will be zero carbon by 2050. Of course, a budget of one trillion dollars until 2030 is required to reach these goals.
This, in fact, is exactly a TOKI (government-backed housing agency) model. Turkey postponed its duties to avoid efficient buildings for many years and gave contractors more time. Energy identity certificates were to have been obtained by 2017 but they were postponed to 2020. Now we are suggesting the same to the world. While the EU moved on to zero energy as of 2018, Turkey is postponing it to 2030 in support of contractors across the globe.
Erdoğan announced three official initiatives near the end of his speech. One of them was the "Climate-Friendly Transportation Initiative." The other two, announced by the minister, are the "Leadership for Local Climate Investment Initiative" and the "Zero Carbon Buildings Initiative". Surely we must not forget that these could secretly be the "Finding a Trillion Dollars for Construction Initiative."
Every subject Erdoğan touched on in his speech was actually a kind of confession. He actually talked openly about how their policies change climate. It was a very historical speech. If we don't talk about this, no one will. If we don't question these words, no one will.
Erdoğan changed the climate of the UN Climate Action Summit. He talked about how he multiplied fossil fuels and how not recycling waste is a good thing, and he put concrete as a policy on the world stage.