Erdoğan’s take on the climate crisis: Look at our gardens!

President Erdogan’s speech at the recent White House climate summit was nothing short of embarassing. Rather than addressing the urgent crisis facing Turkey and the globe, he bragged about the ‘Nation’s Gardens’ and unsubstantiated data on the number of forests in the country. There was no mention of the rapidly growing coal industry or Kanal Istanbul, which will be a final blow to the city’s ecosystem.

The White House climate summit made history as the first digital gathering of 40 world leaders, and Turkish President Erdoğan was among them.

President Biden announced that the United States intends to cut emissions in half by the year 2030, which is a strong manifest, especially after the Trumpist climate denial era.

Other countries made pledges as well, but most announcements were vague and did not promise anything new. China and India didn’t make any new commitments.
The boldest and most incredible speech came from President Bolsanoro, vowing that Brazil would become carbon neutral by 2050 and end deforestation by 2030. Why not end deforestation sooner, as the Amazon is suffering immensely due to the Brazilian president’s policies?

Turkish President Erdoğan’s speech was even worse. It showed that he was by far the least informed on the climate crisis and what it entails. How else could he boast about being number one in renewable energy resources and the city parks called ‘Nation’s Gardens?’

How can anyone believe that Turkey is ‘updating’ it’s Climate Action Plan for 2030 and 2050, while the existing has been trampled upon by 19 years of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) governance, which oversees the destruction of more natural resources every day?

Those who prepared the notes for Erdoğan’s speech for the summit did so in the same way they prepare those for national speeches. The AKP government’s ‘success’ in forestation is one of the pillars.

Erdoğan also claimed that Turkey’s forests have increased to 23 million hectares from 20.8 million hectares during his term as president. Bragging about such an insubstantial increase over a 19 year period is bad enough, but the real problem is that that figure is fake. Not a single professor of forest engineering in Turkey can confirm these numbers.

On the contrary, the Turkish Forestry Association has stated that forests continue to shrink. Additionally, the degredation of natural forests has occured as the result of opening them up for economic activities such as tourism and energy production. This has led to the fragmentation of Turkey’s forests.

Between 2003-2021, the law protecting forests was changed 29 times. The AKP government accelarated the destruction of forestsdestruction of forests, while crunching the numbers for private forestation and parks, which are not natural forests. While the number of forests larger than 10 hectares decreased, the number of forests smaller than 10 hectares grew by 118 percent.

This is likely what Erdoğan is referring to as the“Nation’s Gardens:” While the administration is under criticism for destorying even protected national parks, they have ‘recreated’ some parks for the sake of the ‘nation.’ The AKP even presented urban gardening and roadside planting as a proof of forestation.

President Erdoğan is presenting Turkey as a champion of renewable resources, by building hydroelectric power plants (HPP). Between the years 2009-2015, I have travelled around the Black Sea region reporting how the small HPPs were completely destroying ecosystem and impacting quality of life.

The latest big project is the Ilısu dam, submerging the ancient city of Hasankeyf underwater. So, can the regime really talk about caring for the climate and the wellbeing of its citizens?

While Erdoğan proudly gave examples on renewable energy, there was no mention of the rapidly growing coal industry. Turkey has 28 active coal thermal power plants (CTPP) and more than 30 are planned to be built. This puts Turkey at number 2 after China in the construction of CTPP’s, which is the number one cause of climate change.

Erdoğan also failed to mention Kanal Istanbul in his speech, which will be a final blow to the city’s ecosystem. In his words, the canal will be a life line for Istanbul. But everyone knows that this project will only be a life line for construction firms, destroying precious natural forests, polluting drinking water, killing wildlife, in short, everything we need to protect.