Turkey’s plan remains unclear as COP26 moves to phase out coal

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By Leo Kendrick

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) kicked off in Glasgow, Scotland last week (31 October). Countries around the world are expected to commit to ambitious goals for mitigating climate change, as a follow-up to their pledges made at the 2015 climate summit in Paris. 


Over the first week of the Glasgow conference, the possibility of major pledges to phase out coal use in an ambitious timeframe has been among the most widely discussed topics to come out of the conference. On just the fourth day of COP26, over 40 nations made major pledges to move towards a cessation of their coal use. Large coal consumers such as Poland, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Chile came forward with new ambitious timeframes, although Poland walked back on its pledge shortly after signing it.

Amidst ambitious moves by major polluters to phase out their use of this dirty energy source, Turkey’s plan for new pledges or achieving targets remained unclear. Turkey is a significant consumer of coal, and although Turkish per-capita energy use remains lower than much of the European Union, the country’s appetite for coal has only grown in recent years. With limited oil and natural gas reserves, Turkey’s coal resources constitute almost the entirety of its indigenous energy resources.

As such, a major commitment to phase out coal use would represent an ambitious plan for Turkey. Previous Turkish climate targets have been anything but ambitious; Ankara did not ratify the 2015 Paris climate deal until October 2021 in anticipation of the Glasgow conference, making it the last G20 nation to do so. Turkey’s reluctance to join the 2015 deal centered around its classification as a ‘developed’ country, which would have prescribed more ambitious carbon-reduction targets. Ankara argued that it be classified as ‘developing’, which would have given it more relaxed goals for lowering CO2 emissions.

Despite its hesitancy in joining the climate deals, Turkey has been no stranger to the ravages of climate-induced disasters of late. This past summer saw devastating floods in the Black Sea region as well as wildfires throughout the country, events which many experts attributed at least partially to climate change. As natural disasters have become more common, Turkey has also faced more frequent droughts and water shortages in recent years.

Earlier this week, Anadolu Agency made the surprise announcement that President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan had elected to skip the Glasgow conference, where he had been expected to address the summit regarding Turkey’s emissions targets. President Erdoğan, who had been attending the G20 summit in Rome last weekend, returned to Istanbul instead of making the trip to COP26. While the exact reason remained unclear, sources reported the president’s decision not to attend had been due to “protocol issues”. Turkish Environmental Minister Murat Kurum, as well as Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, are still expected to attend the event.

Turkey’s emissions targets currently include plans to reduce emissions by 21% by 2030, and reach net-zero emissions by 2053. Ankara recently agreed to a $3.2 billion loan from the World Bank to help reach these target
The exact details, however, of how Turkey’s current government plans to meet these targets remains unclear.

Medyascope’s Doğu Eroğlu spoke to Turkish parliament member and COP26 attendee Murat Bakan, who represents Izmir for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), about plans for climate change mitigation. Bakan expressed that climate-focused energy policies figured centrally in the opposition agenda, saying “Once the CHP comes to power, our energy policies will be dictated by climate.” Bakan characterized Turkey’s late ratification of the Paris agreement as “shameful”, which made it one of the last five countries to do so. While expressing support for Turkey’s current goal of carbon neutrality by 2053, Bakan said “Turkey is not taking the necessary steps to become carbon neutral. The most important step is phasing out coal. In order to become carbon neutral, Turkey must stop using fossil fuels. We mustn’t open new coal-fired power plants. As the CHP, we care about this.” 

With an eye towards Turkey’s upcoming elections in 2023, Bakan stressed that an end to coal would be central to the CHP’s agenda should they come to power, saying it would be impossible to meet Turkey’s stated emissions targets without a coal phase-out plan in place. “When you calculate Turkey’s total carbon emissions, it is scientifically impossible to become carbon neutral when we do not remove coal emissions…There is not much time remaining until the elections. There will be a change of power in 2023 and climate will guide our energy policies.”In addition to phasing out coal, priorities at COP26 so far have also focused on reforestation, electric vehicle use, and reducing methane emissions

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