The 26th United Nations Climate Conference at Glasgow (COP 26) is fast approaching, while climate change is intensifying. Many countries will arrive at the Conference carrying the burdens of devastating climate change-fueled disasters, and Turkey is no exception. This past year, the country has been a hotspot of climate change: the water crisis in major cities in the beginning of the year; the mucilage crisis in the Marmara Sea that is still choking marine life; raging wildfires on the Mediterranean coast; deadly flooding in the Black Sea region, claiming hundreds of lives; and ongoing drought in the southeast.
Unfortunately, as the full scale and impact of climate change unfolds, Turkey and the larger Mediterranean region will continue to observe similar or potentially more severe climate disasters. The Mediterranean is expected to face a hotter and drier future in the absence of aggressive climate mitigation.
At Glasgow, the world has a chance to change course and set a rapid decarbonization effort in motion. Unfortunately, a Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) synthesis analysis by the UN shows that the pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions so far fall woefully short of the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming goal. In fact, when considered together, the NDCs of 191 parties correspond to a 16% increase in emissions by 2030 compared to 2010. Turkey’s NDC alone projects a 216% increase in greenhouse emissions by 2030 compared to 2010, and presents this as a “mitigation goal.”
A pathetically out-of-date climate plan
As anyone who reads the first sentence of Turkey’s 2021 NDC will realize, Turkey in fact resubmitted its out-of-date 2015 Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) as its 2021 NDC. In addition to this display of apathy, Turkey’s mere 5-page INDC from 2015 was not even a good starting point in setting the country’s climate action roadmap. For example, Turkey never pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions—it only committed to not emit as much as it could have under a business-as-usual scenario. Furthermore, both the business-as-usual and the mitigation scenarios assumed very high growth rates coupled with big increases in emissions, and were not updated prior to the 2021 resubmission. As they currently stand, the country’s emission projections in the INDC do not reflect Turkey’s grim economic circumstances, nor do they explain that the drop in emissions are not a result of climate action but rather of declining economic output. Yet taken out of this context, the INDC creates the illusion that Turkey remained well below its emission mitigation target (actual emissions in 2019 were 506.1 million CO2-equivalent compared to the mitigation goal of 535 million by 2020).
Turkey’s installed renewable energy capacity goal also lost relevance. The INDC states that by 2030 Turkey’s installed solar capacity would reach 10 GW and its wind capacity 16 GW. As of September 2021, the solar capacity already reached 7.5 GW and the wind capacity far exceeded 10 GW. Also missing from the INDC are any plans for electrifying the transportation sector. Although there is a brief mention of promoting clean vehicles, the plan does not set any goals to replace gasoline vehicles with their zero-emission counterparts or to build a national electric charging infrastructure.
Turkey’s last chance to catch the climate train
With unambitious climate goals and futile attempts to frame mediocre achievements as noteworthy, Turkey heads to Glasgow with a weak hand and very little relevance. However, there is still time for the country to establish itself as a regional climate leader and to show good will in climate negotiations. Countries are allowed to update their NDCs anytime, so Turkey’s climate negotiators must begin by submitting a new and detailed NDC with updated mitigation goals and more ambitious targets.
For example, a pledge to install at least 60 GW in solar and wind power capacity by 2030 would be a good first step to set Turkey on the path to decarbonization. Studies show that with adequate investment in the electricity grid, the country could reach this goal by 2028 while creating well-paying jobs and mitigating its budget deficit, in which imported fossil fuels play a significant role.
Second, Turkey must pull the plug on coal and pledge to decommission all coal-powered plants by 2030. Turkey’s dependence on imported fossil fuels already causes headaches, both for consumers and for the electricity grid. The coal plants dependent on imported coal have paused generation due to the spike in global coal prices and the continued devaluation of the Turkish lira against the US dollar. Meanwhile, the cost of renewables has been declining rapidly over the past decade, rendering many renewable energy investments much cheaper than coal; so much so that at the moment, installing new wind and solar power is in fact cheaper than running existing coal plants. As all signals point to coal’s demise this decade, Turkey could take a huge leap in climate action by decommissioning its coal plants instead of keeping them on taxpayer subsidized life support and endangering the country’s electricity grid.
As the planet’s climate rapidly heads towards uncharted waters, COP 26 could be a turning point in global climate action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But it could also be a turning point for Turkey. Although the country has long maintained that it is not responsible for climate mitigation due to its minimal historical contribution to climate change, Turkey will only shoot itself in the foot if it continues to burn fossil fuels and increase its emissions, particularly given higher than average warming in the Mediterranean region. Instead, Turkey must seize the opportunity at Glasgow to reposition itself as a climate leader, make an ambitious climate pledge, commit to rapid decarbonization, and show its determination to be a part of the solution—to save its own future.
*Gökçe Şencan is a California-based water and climate policy researcher. She can be found on Twitter, @GokceSencan.