ANALYSIS - Joining the dots or joining late? Turkey’s new climate policy

Turkey’s somewhat surprising change in policy could be seen as a new engagement strategy, a desire to have a seat at the table, or an attempt to try a new approach to accessing climate finance

Karim Elgendy  | 13.10.2021 - Update : 14.10.2021
ANALYSIS - Joining the dots or joining late? Turkey’s new climate policy

​​​​​​​The author is a sustainability consultant based in London. He is an Associate Fellow with Chatham House and the founder of Carboun, an advocacy initiative promoting sustainability in cities of the MENA region.


On October 6, Turkey’s parliament unanimously voted to ratify the Paris Agreement, almost 5 years after the landmark climate accord came into force. The agreement is now ratified by all signatories except for Iran, Libya, Yemen, and Eritrea.

Turkey’s delay in ratification was widely believed to have been a leverage in its efforts to change its designation within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCCC) from an “Economy in Transition”, which has prevented Turkey from accessing climate finance, to “a developing economy”. In a speech to the UN General Assembly last month, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remarked that the delay in ratifying the accord was due to “injustices related to state obligations and burden sharing”.

Turkey's new climate strategy

Turkey’s somewhat surprising change in policy could be seen as a new engagement strategy, a desire to have a seat at the table, or an attempt to try a new approach to accessing climate finance. But its timing just before the COP26 climate summit, its scope, and the official justification provided also suggest a genuine concern about the impacts of climate change on Turkey’s environment, economy, and even national security.

Days before the Paris Agreement was ratified, the Turkish government announced plans to dramatically increase its climate ambitions, and to aim for zero carbon by 2053. In doing so, it has become the 64th country to commit to working towards carbon neutrality by the middle of the century. According to government sources, Turkey also plans to revise its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement following the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, with more ambitious carbon reduction targets aligned with its zero-carbon goal. Turkey also signaled its intention to become a leader on climate action supporting Least Developed Countries.

The details of what mechanisms will be adopted to achieve zero carbon and how they will be financed are yet to be defined. But some elements of the plan have already been made public.

Renewable energy was clearly identified as to Turkey’s carbon mitigation efforts, which is unsurprising giving its successful renewable energy program, its efforts to achieve energy independence, and the increasing economic advantages of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power over fossil fuel — even when compared to existing coal power plants.

Carbon sequestration was also highlighted as an integral component, which ties in with Turkey’s ambitious forestation plans. For almost two decades, Turkey has been working on afforestation projects that aim to preserve its vulnerable soils from desertification and erosion. It has planted over 5 billion trees over the last 18 years and plan to reach 7 billion by the end of 2023. If achieved, this would increase the share of forests to a third of Turkey’s land area.

Establishment of an emissions-tracing scheme like the European Union’s Emission Tradition System has also been proposed by Turkish officials as a climate measure. But more importantly, it is also an attempt to respond to the European Union’s Green Deal and to avoid its impending carbon border tax (known as Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism or CBAM) which is due to come into effect in 2023 with a transition period until 2026.

Putting a price on carbon locally is deemed to be one way of avoiding the carbon tax burden, given Turkey’s high exposure to it. In fact, Turkey is the fifth most exposed country to CBAM due to its cement, iron, steel, aluminum, and electricity exports into the EU. According to a recent study by Chatham House, 30% of the EU’s CBAM-covered cement imports come from Turkey.


​​​​​​​A policy shift and efforts in international arena

In order to develop the policy and work out the details, the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization will organize a council in Antalya in 2022 for all stakeholders including private sector and civil society to discuss climate change and how to achieve the 2053 decarbonization target. Among the measures that are likely to be included is raising energy efficiency targets in buildings. The “kentsel dönüşüm” urban regeneration program, which aims to rebuild 7,5 million units before this decade is over, representing almost a third of all residential units in Turkey today, presents a real opportunity for reducing energy use and carbon emissions by building more efficiently. This is especially relevant given that the majority of buildings in Turkey were built before energy codes were introduced over the last decade, according to research by the World Resources Institute in Turkey.

In terms of finance, with access blocked to UNFCCC-linked funds, such as the Green Climate Fund, alternative avenues are being considered to obtain finance from non-UNFCCC sources. Turkey is currently in negotiations with the World Bank, and the French and German Development banks to secure $3 billion of climate finance. Turkish officials are hopeful that this would also unlock as much as $20 billion from multilateral development banks and the private sector.

Yet simultaneously, Turkey plans to continue lobbying at COP26 and beyond to get its UNFCCC designation changed to a developing economy in order to access UNFCCC climate finance. As it ratified the Paris Agreement, the parliament attached a declaration that notes that Turkey will implement the accord as a developing country, despite its current designation. This move was clearly designed to signal the seriousness of the matter and perhaps Turkey’s frustration with the lack of progress.

It was in COP7, held in Marrakech, Morocco in 2001, that a UNFCCC committee invited parties to recognize Turkey’s special circumstances, which placed Turkey in a situation different from that of other Economies in Transition. Two decades later, such “special circumstances” have yet to be defined, and access to finance has yet to be resolved. This has left Turkish officials frustrated that an economy such as South Korea can be considered a developing one while Turkey cannot, and that countries with higher and comparable GDP per capita such as Bahrain, China, Malaysia, Argentina and Chile can all benefit from climate funding but not Turkey.

In making this policy shift, Turkey may have struck many as a latecomer to the table that aims to become a regional leader, while others may have seen it as having simply developed an ambitious vision that integrates and connects existing efforts. Yet the fact remains that this shift will be welcomed by almost everyone, from Turkish youth and civil society to the global community. Everybody wins in the global race to zero carbon, but the environment wins the most.

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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