Focusing on renewable energy for Turkey

While I was cycling on the streets of Copenhagen sightseeing last week, I wondered if it would be possible to ride on one of the steep streets in Ankara, for instance, to reach the top of the hill in Çankaya. I said, “No way.”

The unique nature of this city where 37 percent of its residents commute on bicycles is a combination of many factors, which may not be easy to replicate in other capitals of the world. “We cycle because it is a mode of transportation for us, not a leisure activity or exercise,” stresses Inge Nilsson, who works for the city’s environmental department. She explained all about how the municipality plans to reach the ambitious goal of making the city carbon neutral by 2025.

In a city where buying, maintaining and parking a car is much too expensive, no wonder a sizable portion of its half a million residents opts to use bicycles to commute from home to work every day. I guess it is also part of the culture in which many Danes feel very conscientious when it comes to protecting the environment. The Copenhagen City Council has launched more than 50 initiatives to make the city greener, encourage more bicycle commuting and offer free advice on conserving energy.

With the exception of cycling, I think we can copy the Copenhagen experience in most parts of Turkey’s cities. It remains certain that pedaling in the streets of Ankara is a dream that may never come true. It is also true that Turkey’s stance that its special circumstances must be taken into consideration when it comes to climate change is not a sustainable approach in the long run.

Out of concern that its fast developing manufacturing base may lose its competitive edge, Turkey kept insisting on having a guarantee that its special circumstances would be included in the final agreement of the failed 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Copenhagen last year — a provision appended to its portion of the Kyoto Protocol recalling “the special national circumstances of parties undergoing the process of transition to a market economy.”

Turkey’s exception was recognized in the 2001 COP 7 conference in Marrakech, where its name was deleted from Annex II of the convention. That meant that an unjust situation in which Turkey was included in the category as a developed country was corrected. But Turkey remained in Annex I of the convention because it is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Yet while this may have bought some time for Turkey by still using old coal-fired plants to fuel the engine of growth, I believe it is not a sustainable policy in the long run. Especially considering the fact that we have recently opened the environment chapter in negotiations with Brussels, the policy may need some revisions. The chapter will demand new environmental considerations affecting every business and municipality in Turkey, with a hefty price tag I might add.

For example, Turkey’s emission reduction target of 7 percent in the energy sector by 2020 is way below the 20 percent target set by the EU over the same time period. Therefore, Ankara may need to revise its national strategy document to reflect better alignment with EU standards and invest more in renewable energy technologies. Some environmental advocacy groups go further by saying that Turkey’s target should be to reduce emissions by at least 30 percent by 2020 in light of the fact that its emissions have risen quickly, from 170 million tons in 1990 to 372 million tons in 2007 as its annual per capita income rose from $3,000 in 1990 to $10,000 in 2007.

Though it may have warranted a place for Turkey in the category of “middle-income developing country” based on social and economic figures such as per capita income, per capita primary energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the policy will take its toll on Turkey’s climate, which stands in one of the regions most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

I suggest that policymakers take another look at the policy developed by the state agencies and come up with a more realistic and human approach to national interests. Then maybe we will see a more sensible policy aired by Turkey’s representatives at the UN ministerial talks in Mexico at the end of this year. We should invest more in renewable energy options and pass the draft law that has been waiting in Parliament for more than two years. An abundance of domestic and international investors have lined up already to take advantage of the booming renewables market in Turkey.

The meeting in Mexico will build on the Copenhagen Accord, which seeks to limit the increase in temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above levels recorded in pre-industrial times. But the compromise face-saving agreement does not spell out how to achieve that goal and is not legally binding on parties. We do hope the international community will fare much better in Mexico.

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