Turkey: How Erdogan became a climate protector

Status: 10/22/2021 4:12 a.m.

After years of refusal, Turkey ratified the world climate agreement. President Erdogan’s rethinking is primarily for pragmatic reasons – and from an expert perspective it is not a big step.

By Oliver Mayer-Rüth, ARD-Studio Istanbul

For years the Turkish president refused to ratify the Paris climate agreement. Recep Tayyip Erdogan was therefore regarded by international heads of state as an environmental offender par excellence. On September 21, he announced his rethinking at the United Nations in New York: Two weeks later, on October 6, the Turkish parliament decided to comply with the requirements of the climate agreement in the future.

Oliver Mayer-Rüth
ARD-Studio Istanbul

Has Erdogan become a sustainable environmentalist overnight? Özgür Gürbüz, an activist in the Ekosfer association, lists four reasons that probably caused Erdogan to rethink: First of all, it was financial donations from the World Bank and other countries, including Germany and France. Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the ratification by Turkey at a press conference with Erdogan in Istanbul last Saturday.

According to a report by the Reuters news agency, Turkey should actually receive a loan of 3.1 billion euros as a result of the decision.

Sitting at the table at the UN summit

In addition, there is the pressure from industry due to the European “Green Deal”, says Gürbüz: Company bosses and associations had called for the climate agreement to be implemented because countries that do not participate in the “Green Deal” have to pay higher CO2 taxes. In addition, Turkey only has observer status at the next United Nations climate summit in Glasgow – and little bothers the Turkish president as much as not sitting at the table at relevant international conferences.

After all, due to the catastrophic forest fires and various floods with many deaths last July and August, an awareness of climate change arose in the Turkish population, which Erdogan cannot avoid, says Gürbüz: Young Turks in particular attest to society and the political leadership’s lack of environmental awareness to the detriment of future generations.

Not a big challenge

Another factor is certainly the country’s economy, which has stagnated in recent years. When the climate agreement was signed by Turkey in Paris at the beginning of 2016, the country set itself the target of emitting a maximum of 929 million tons of CO2 per year by 2030. At that time, Ankara was apparently still assuming much higher growth and correspondingly higher emissions. At the moment, however, it is just over 500 million tonnes, says Gürbüz – consequently, ratification is not a particularly big challenge.

For a long time it was said that Erdogan did not want to ratify in order to persuade the countries involved in the agreement to add the emerging country Turkey to the list of developing countries. Then grants from funds would have been higher. He did not achieve this and has therefore now realized that it is not worth pursuing the strategy any further.

The Turkish president wants Turkey to now reduce its emissions to zero by 2053. The closer you get to this point in time, the more the industry is likely to be challenged. The chance that Erdogan will then have to deal with the goal he has set is slim, however.


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