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.
Today, Ankara is not Wuhan. Wuhan is a good example compared to our capital city. Today, Ankara is a construction site. Ankara residents have to remind the city again that they do not want a municipal administration that works for contractors — alongside a presidential system that works for contractors.
This good news about the discovery of natural gas reserves in the Black Sea at the same time means a disaster for the environment. Turkey is a country in which environmental protection standards are very low, and it cannot control even this. This project will be the end of the Black Sea.
As Turkish politics have been reduced to a binary dichotomy between the government bloc and the opposition, İYİ Party plays a somewhat unifying and dampening effect in that regard. But while the government is out of touch with the people, the opposition is not tuned in with it either.
In the past four months, none of our municipalities prepared the infrastructure for washing our hands. They were not able to meet the sidewalk conditions of 1.5 meters width for the social distancing of pedestrians. Almost all of our 1,397 municipalities have failed according to these criteria, including opposition ones.
Even though there are now 163,000 cases detected in Turkey and even more cases that are undetected, the malls are opening. At what cost and for whose sake they are opening? It is quite apparent that they are not opening for our sake; the data is clear. When you review the equation from the point of view of the novel coronavirus, then you have five huge reasons not to step inside these malls.
In Turkey, the pandemic seems to have also opened asphalt season for some local administrations. Municipalities regarded this period as a huge opportunity to pave asphalt.
The Energy Ministry’s 2019-2023 Strategic Plan tells us a lot about the government's intentions. It is obviously a plan that still insists on coal and hydroelectric power policies, and that has solar and wind energy only as an accessory. The climate crisis is not even mentioned.
The first coronavirus month in Turkey will be recorded in history as the month of opportunism, the month of abusing a pandemic. It kept some of its people at home and others at mines and factories, turning the country into a labor camp. Only the local administrations were left, but there were policies to curb their powers as well.
As a host to 85 percent of all international travels, Istanbul has become an attraction center for coronavirus. And as a host to 38 percent of Turkey’s domestic travels, Istanbul spread the virus to the rest of the country.
The Turkish government has not taken steps related to the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak. They actually took steps in the opposite direction asking people to do their own homework and resisting a total lockdown in the country. Meanwhile, the opposition self-quarantined itself politically.
Both the stage that the capitalism has reached globally and Turkey’s implementation of it, cannot be neglected while discussing the underlying factors which tie the climate crisis and the COVID-19 outbreak to each other.
In 2019, the number of issues broke the record with 935 extreme meteorological issues recorded in Turkey. That's 9 times the overall number recorded for the second half of the 20th century. Last year, floods occurred in cities including Ordu, Düzce, Trabzon, Antalya and Mersin that cost the lives of many people.
While Russia needs to sell its energy to Turkey, the US must stay within the Middle East to get its oil. That is why they are both seeking Turkey on their side.At the moment, Turkey is paying for the Syrian war with its loved ones and poverty. It is only by achieving peace with its neighbors that we can attain a win-win situation.
Thanks to a Special Communication Tax that was introduced after the 1999 earthquake, some 67.5 billion Turkish Liras have been collected up to now for earthquake relief. But rather than on earthquake preparedness, the money was largely spent on construction projects.
Kanal Istanbul is a project based on unjust profit-earning that is well-known first to Turkish companies, followed by Arab, European, and even Pakistani capital owners. But we still don’t know the full truth of what is going on with the project. Good that we do not know, because if we did, the Kanal Istanbul project would end immediately.
According to OECD data, Turkey allocated 289 million dollars for waste management in 2008. Ever since, the country has developed and grown, right? Despite this, the money allocated for waste management fell to 147 million dollars in 2015. We have a government that does not want to manage waste and spend money on it. Burying trash is easy; the soil is free.
President Erdoğan's government recently suffered two fiascos, one involved thermal power plants while the other had to do with a plan to rescue the private company “Simit Sarayı”. So why would it press forward with the Kanal Istanbul project?
It is possible for us to close down all coal mines! The way to this has been paved with the veto on the proposed bill. But if we leave public policy unattended and representatives continue to leave parliament seats empty, the opposite will happen. I should point out as a warning that, just like the Environment and City Planning Minister could actually be referring to the business schedule when he says “we installed a filter in 6 months,” a similar wordplay could be at hand with the veto. We will go after the answer together, I promise.
We know how much the ministry earned from shopping bags in the first nine months of the year. At 25 kuruş (cents) for each nylon bag, 15 kuruş were deposited to the ministry and the total was 188 million lira. You heard it right, 18.8 billion kuruş.
The Ministry of Forestry routinely opens up forest ecosystems for economic exploitation. It distributes permits to use forests for mineral exploitation, mining, construction and even for oil drilling. In 2012, 2,810 permits were granted for those purposes. Between 2012 and 2018, that number rose to 18,515.
The government has found a way to take back the Bosphorus after losing İstanbul elections. The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization has drafted a 28 point legislative proposal called the Boshporus Law. With the new law, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and four provinces no longer have any authority in the Bosphorus.
Volkswagen's investment plan in Turkey is a scandal. It is no less than an attempt to rescue a drowning company ensnared in corruption. While the Turkish public will bear the economic costs of this plan, environmental damage will also be caused.
Turkey wants to be a party to the Paris Agreement as the structure of the deal allows countries to increase emissions. Turkey, which is among the 12 countries that have not yet joined the agreement, had added 193.5 million tons to climate changing greenhouse gases in last 20 years before 2010.