The Climate Council: Groundbreaking work or missed opportunity?

The ratification of the Paris Agreement opened a new chapter in Turkey’s climate policies. Followed by the declaration of a net-zero emissions target for 2053, Turkey’s ratification of the agreement came after a six-year delay, with exhausting bilateral post-Paris negotiations. After securing additional climate finances of USD 3.2 billion from the World Bank, Germany, and France, Turkey made a unilateral declaration that it would become a party to the Paris Agreement as a developing country, although its Annex-I status has not changed after more than 25 years of attempting to be excluded from the list. The Turkish government also added “climate change” to the name of the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, accelerated preparations for a Climate Change Law, and enthusiastically supported the Glasgow Climate Pact in COP 26, in which the real target of the Paris Agreement was identified as 1.5-degree and the phasing down of coal was mentioned for the first time in a COP decision. Turkey returned from Glasgow with clear homework: updating its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for 2030 and preparing a long-term net-zero roadmap, both aligning with the 2053 target.

However, whether this decisive moment means a real change in Turkey’s fossil fuel-oriented and emissions-intensive economy, which is also highly dependent on energy imports, is not only about what Turkey’s new NDC will look like but also about how this policy change will be made.

İklim Şurası (The Climate Council), which was organized by the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization, and Climate Change (MoEUCC) following Turkey’s decision to ratify the Paris Agreement, was an important step in this new chapter of climate policies. The Council (Şura) is a large advisory meeting on different topics, such as education, transportation, employment, environment, etc., organized by the relevant ministry as a long tradition of Turkey’s public administration. Although the sole function of Councils in Turkey is consultation, the participation of different actors and stakeholders resembles a participatory process of policymaking, which does not really exist in any other form in Turkey.  

The Climate Council, the first and the largest gathering related to climate change to have ever taken place in Turkey, was announced by the Ministry in December 2021, just after COP 26. A large group of academics, experts, and representatives of sectoral organizations, business groups, and environmental NGOs were invited, alongside many experts and bureaucrats from several ministries and other public institutions. The Council began meeting in December through its seven committees: Greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation-1 (energy, transportation, and industry), GHG mitigation-2 (waste, agriculture, buildings, LULUCF), science and technology, green finance and carbon pricing, adaptation, local administrations, and migration, just transition, and other social policies. Each commission had several hundred members, bringing the total number of members of the Council to more than one thousand. The Council started to work on 27 December 2021 through online meetings and gathered on 21-25 February in Konya.[1]

The outcomes of the meeting, which contained 217 articles in seven sections, were adopted on the last day. These outcomes were announced as “draft policy recommendations” and sent to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to be officially declared after his approval. However, the official outcomes have yet to be announced—possibly due to regional political tension and the war in Ukraine just after the Council meeting. Still, as asserted by Mehmet Emin Birpınar, Deputy Minister of MoEUCC and the Chief Climate Negotiator of Turkey, we can assume that the policy recommendations will have a significant impact on Turkey’s future climate policies.[2]

We can summarize the Council outcomes in three main points:

All commissions carried out exhaustive work and identified the main points about their topics as policy recommendations. Some of the recommendations were simply the endorsement of existing or intended ministerial strategies, such as the long-term energy plans and energy efficiency strategies of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MoENR), zero-waste targets, national green finance, ETS strategies of the MoEUCC, and increasing land consolidation or strengthening agricultural insurance schemes pursued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Some of the recommendations were obvious policies to emphasize, such as increasing renewables, digitalization of energy systems, green jobs, public transportation, bike lanes, reducing food waste, organic agriculture, strengthening fire prevention systems, decoupling economic growth and environmental degradation, etc., although they lacked any clear target. Other recommendations were quite relevant but very long term and/or too much about cutting-edge technologies; therefore, it is hard to predict their applicability and usefulness, such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), green hydrogen, smart and innovative battery technologies, small modular nuclear reactors, etc. It is expected that these or similar recommendations would be included in Turkey’s climate policies, but they should be more specific and based on robust evidence regarding their role in mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The second group of outcomes was potentially pioneering for Turkey’s climate policies, such as emphasis on distributed energy systems and self-consumption, increasing power system flexibility, heat pumps and renewable-based regional heating, climate-friendly agricultural support mechanisms, ecosystem-based sustainable and circular food production, protecting sinks through integrated land use management, climate-related internal and external displacement, national loss and damage mechanisms, rights-based approaches, etc. Although there are no clear guidelines about their implementation, it was important to include these innovative policies, since policymakers take these policy recommendations very seriously, and even preliminary works on these policies can create a difference.

The third group of outcomes, which is about the main axis of global climate policies, was very problematic and risked the effective implementation of all policy recommendations: The outcomes of the first commission on GHG mitigation (energy, transportation, industry) did not mention coal phase-out in the energy policies and included gas and nuclear energy as low-emissions solutions. Although the necessity of a roadmap for coal phase-out had been the hottest debate since the online meetings took place and was included in the final draft with few reservations (e.g., without hindering Turkey’s developmental rights, etc.), it was taken out from the final outcomes by the high-level group of the commission (i.e., roundtable meetings with the participation of deputy ministers) at the last minute. Additionally, the same group included a policy recommendation for increasing natural gas exploration and extraction (a priority for the MoENR), although it had never come to the agenda during the commission meetings.

The main objective of climate policies, according to the Paris Agreement, is to keep global temperature increase well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to keep it below 1.5°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has given a simple and clear formula to achieve this: A fast and drastic reduction of emissions (45% reduction from 2010 emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions in 2050) that prioritizes fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions. Therefore, phasing down/out coal in the energy system, as it was recognized by all the countries in the Glasgow Climate Pact last year, is an essential step. Since natural gas is another fossil fuel and nuclear energy is expensive, dangerous, and not defined as an alternative in the international climate regime, they should not be part of the solution. Exploration and extraction of more fossil fuels is not only irrelevant but also opposed to international climate policies. Consequently, these policies will potentially harm overall climate action as well as Turkey’s new NDC in future.[3]

The Climate Council was a good idea to put Turkey’s climate policy on track. Implementing science-based policies developed through a deliberative process and backed by civil society would have been groundbreaking. However, politically oriented changes in major decisions like excluding the coal phase-out, which ignores the consensus among experts, activists, and policymakers, may frustrate efforts. Whether or not this work will turn into a missed opportunity will be determined as the next steps are being taken.


[1] I was one of the members of the first committee (GHG mitigation-1) and participated in the all-Council meetings.

[2] https://www.iklimhaber.org/bakan-yardimcisi-birpinar-suradan-200-maddeden-olusan-karar-cikacak/

[3] I voted “no” to the decision to adopt the outcomes mainly because of this reason and added an annotation, see https://yesilgazete.org/iklim-surasi-politika-tavsiye-kararlarina-serh-neden-hayir-oyu-verdim/.

Explore New Perspectives on Turkey on Cambridge Core to learn more about this ground-breaking Journal and its content offerings.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *