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Erdogan: ‘Doubting Thom’ of Climate Change?

Those who have read the Bible will very probably remember a narrative about the doubting Thom. According to John, the evangelist, “…Thomas (also known as Didymus]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

“A week later his disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

“Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

My memory clicked live this narrative when I listened to a clip about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling the United Nations General Assembly in New York that his government would seek to ratify the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He set the timing for submitting it to parliament for approval as “next month”. And the approval in Turkish circumstances is of course something definite because Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party and coalition allies hold the majority vote and he is above the House. He is the executive president with supra powers.

On a time range line, Turkey five years ago signed the Paris Agreement declaring its intent to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to curb global climate change. But it delayed the ratification, the reason for which is clear. It was disputing being categorized as a “developed economy” thereby losing chances of getting funds to support implementation efforts. Other signatory nations that have yet to ratify the Paris Agreement are Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. 

The question is: “Why now?” Have the conditions changed? Does Turkey now agree with the accord conditions of the Paris Agreement?

I’ve not heard a soft spoken Erdogan of late as when I listened to a clip of him telling the United Nations General Assembly, “Turkey is not indifferent to any global problem, crisis or call, and will also do its part on climate change and protecting the environment.” One is free to trust him or not. For, here is a statement from the president whose country that has, for example, thrown the Istanbul Convention for protecting the rights of women and children aboard; a country that is notorious for violations of human rights, international law, conducting cross border abductions and the like.

But one thing is definite. Turkey has been through a one-to-one experience on the effects of climate change. The series of wildfires, floods and sea snot outbreak in the Marmara Sea have been enough ecological disasters to learn from about the importance or relevance of the Paris Agreement. The Turkey story has been more than of climate change. It has been one of climate crisis. It’s a typical replica of the Bible story of Thomas (also known as Didymus]). Erdogan had to see the floods, wildfires and the sea snot in order to believe in the Paris Agreement.

As co-spokesperson for Turkey’s Green Party Emine Ozkan was quoted as saying in the media, “This development (Erdogan’s statement) is of critical importance for the role that Turkey will finally play to fight against the climate crisis…“Issues such as floods and wildfires we have suffered this year, the economic crisis we have been through … are pressing the government from every angle.”

Along with decreasing carbon emissions, Ozkan said the Turkish government should also reevaluate some urban planning policies she said led to greater property damage during the floods.

There is enough evidence to prove that the Turkish people have taken bigger interest in environmental problems and climate change. According to a Transatlantic Trends survey conducted earlier this year, 83% of respondents said their government should do more to slow climate change. A recent British Council report says   about 95% of Turkey’s youth said climate change was one of the most significant dangers facing their country.

A mechanical engineer and independent climate consultant Onder Algedik was quoted in the media as saying “People are looking for concrete action, not polishing actions.” Algedik said in addition to ratifying the Paris Agreement, the Turkish government should “urgently” shut down coal-fired power plants, stop subsidizing fossil fuel investments and redirect funds to advance energy-efficiency projects under a plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Ersin Tek, executive director for Greenpeace Mediterranean, said pressure from the European Union may have played a role in Erdogan’s decision to move on the Paris Agreement. “The world has passed the deadline for discussion. We have literally no time to lose.” And this is more so for Turkey in the wake of the next UN Climate Change Conference beginning on October 31, in Glasgow, Scotland.

But all said, how serious of committed should the world take Erdogan on the question of the environment? Is he listening to his people? I doubt. I don’t even think he has time for that. For him, the political environment counts more than the stories of the Paris Agreement. Why?

President Erdoganrecently launched a 45km-Canal Istanbul, a multi-billion dollar waterway running parallel to the Bosphorus Strait. To connect the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean, it would provide tankers with a new route in the hope of raising more incomes for the country from fees, according to the president.

But many say that the project is astronomically costly given Turkey’s economic agony and might cause an environmental disaster. Tagged at 15 billion U.S. dollars, the canal is Turkey’s biggest largest infrastructure project.

In Turkey, it is believed that he who rules Istanbul rules the country.   Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, does not support the construction of the canal and polls reveal that most of the citizens of the city share her opinion.  So, for whom is President Erdogan undertaking the project? 

The planned canal cuts through agricultural land and forests – often referred to as one of the few remaining “green lungs” of Istanbul. It threatens marine ecosystems and crucial water reservoirs. How does this environmental threat tally with the words of President Erdogan in New York?  What is the meaning of the Turkey Parliament ratifying the   Paris Agreement when the country has a project on hand set for creating an environmental crisis? It’s contradictory.

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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