Turkey and Europe’s 'climatic' convergence

At first glance, Turkey may seem to be missing the “climate activism” heyday that’s on-going in Europe. Afterall, it is not the best of the times for any sort of grassroots activism in Turkey. But if you probe deeper, you will come across a diligent and robust climate activist movement budding all over the country.

“Climate strike” has been selected by the Collins Dictionary as the Word of 2019, and “climate emergency” has become Oxford Word of the Year. This is not just a “normative” choice inspired by Greta Thunberg and kids striking for the climate due to her example around the world. As Oxford Dictionaries put it:

“Analysis of language data collected in the Oxford Corpus shows the rapid rise of climate emergency from relative obscurity to becoming one of the most prominent – and prominently debated – terms of 2019. Usage of the phrase climate emergency increased steeply over the course of 2019, and by September it was more than 100 times as common as it had been the previous year.”

Climate strikes, which were started by the “Fridays for Future” movement that was created by teenage activists with Greta Thunberg at the vanguard, has drawn unprecedented attention to the most vital emergency that our planet is facing: the existential environmental disaster. 

As 2019 draws to end, on November 28 the European Parliament declared a "climate emergency" across the European Union. The Parliament’s burst of activities on climate came ahead of COP 25, the UN Climate Change Conference that will take place December 2 to 13 in Madrid. Two climate crisis-oriented resolutions adopted last Thursday were passed with a comfortable majority and with the support of members of parliament from across the political spectrum. And they were also adopted to steer the new EU Commission team, which will soon be at the helm of the EU, towards “greener” politics.

One of the resolutions that the European Parliament adopted declared a climate and environmental emergency in Europe and globally. With a consecutive resolution, the members of parliament demanded that the European Commission ensures that all relevant legislative and budgetary proposals are fully aligned with the objective of limiting global warming to under 1.5°C.

Moreover, they also affirm that the EU should cut emissions by 55% by 2030 in order to become climate neutral by 2050, just as they called for a reduction of global emissions from shipping and aviation.

At first glance, Turkey may seem to be missing the “climate activism” heyday ongoing in Europe. After all, it is not best of the times for any sort of grassroots activism in Turkey. But probe deeper, and you will come across a diligent and robust climate activist movement budding all over the country.

On March 15, I was among the witnesses of the first climate strike to take place in Turkey. The central meeting point for the strike was Bebek Park in Istanbul, which is located in one of the most glamorous seaside districts of the city. But there were also strikes all around the country, even as far away as Iğdır, the easternmost town in Turkey and a place not known for its activism. The climate strikers were mostly teenage activists with various backgrounds, but they were also accompanied by family members. I recall vividly a grandfather meticulously painting a poster while apologizing to kids around him, saying, “We could not do enough to save the planet: please forgive us.” 

Another snapshot emblazoned on my mind was veteran climate activist Ömer Madra’s eyes shining so bright: He was as zestful as the climate striking teens. Madra has been the most prominent climate activist in Turkey and has been trying to draw attention to climate crisis for decades now. 

Nine months ago, at Bebek, I was feeling both proud, exhilarated and at the same time, worried, as I eyed the climate activist kids gathered for their strike. Not only I, but fellow climate activists were also a bit uneasy because as mentioned previously, this period is not the best of times when it comes to activism in Turkey.

But the climate striking youth of Turkey, like Atlas Sarrafoğlu, did not only succeed in disseminating their ideas and developing the strike movement, they also took to their cause to the Turkish parliament, debating parliamentarians and ministers in Ankara. The young climate activists in Turkey are well-connected to climate strikers across the globe, as well. Sarrafoğlu and Selin Gören were among the activists who traveled to Lausanne this past August for the Smile for Future event, part of Fridays for Future, where they met Thunberg and other activists.  There are many, many others like 11-year-old Deniz Çevikus, who continues to strike every Friday since March 15. I just feel sad that I cannot cite all of them here.

One of the veteran climate activists who has accompanied the teen activists of Turkey’s Fridays for Future, Can Tonbil, draws attention to the fact that the parliamentarians mull taking action. So far, no institution in Turkey has declared a "climate emergency," or come anywhere close to that.

Contemporary politics might win the day, but the future of politics is well beyond Ankara — catching today’s global vibe and blooming through the climate strike's grassroots.

September 29, 2021 A post-Merkel Turkey