‘It’s a question of prestige’: Climate change as public policy in Turkey, By Gülçin Erdi Lelandais
Climate change has been a preoccupation of public bodies in Turkey since the country signed the UNFCC in 2004. Before then, periodic environmental policies were enacted, but under the remit of each Cabinet ministry and without handing over central control
Climate Change (CC) has fallen within the auspices of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning since 2010. The structure of the ministry has been modified and the ministerial staff and premises have been increased in size. In addition, despite being previously affiliated with the Meteorology Department, which specialized exclusively in weather forecasts, CC policies have become progressively detached from it. In July 2010, a new department focusing on CC was founded, with its own staff. Questions were then asked concerning the reasons for the rapid evolution within the ministry. Why had CC become one of the priorities of the ministry and why had it become a field in which both international cooperation and project-management activities had been given a renewed focus? These questions give rise to another set of questions on environmental policies in Turkey: When and for what reasons has there been genuine change? Why have public bodies felt the need and necessity to restructure environmental policy and make CC a central focus? This article aims to analyze the place of institutions and the international context concerning CC policies up to 2010 in order to offer a better understanding of their role in the development of environmental policies in Turkey. This analysis will also adopt a local point of view with respect to the desertification of the Konya Plain. The latter is particularly important, given that as one of the most negatively affected regions by both CC in Turkey and public policy, it provides a good example of the key elements of the general political orientation of the CC issue in Turkey as a whole. International institutions have been at the forefront of the framework of environmental policies, which is due to the fact that they symbolized a renewal in public action modalities. They also allow a more international and negotiated definition of the environment as a public problem. An analysis of the relevant policies reveals international institutions have been the driving force in the emergence of CC as a public policy in Turkey. It is also clear that their commitment to such policies forces governments to take action in order to raise their prestige at the international level.
The environment as political object: From instrumentalization to preservation
Until the mid-1990s, environmental policies were not a priority for Turkish governments, which were mainly
concerned with economic politics. Similarly to other areas, policies governing environmental issues depended on the beliefs of policymakers, which were determined on the basis of a series of prescribed and hierarchical requirements identifiable in society. 1 An incontestable commitment to fast and continual economic growth was at the heart of social tensions in the country at the time, not only because of its destabilizing effects but also due to the fact that instead of taking action to bring about political reform, decision-makers considered economic growth to be a remedy to social problems. 2 In this way, the environmental degradation caused by the overexploitation of natural resources and waste disposal, which went far beyond the ecosystem’s capacity for recovery, increased drastically, especially after the 1980s. 3 A wide range of activities -- uncontrolled industrialization and urbanization, the intensive use of chemical products and pesticides in agriculture, mismanaged touristic activities and large-scale irrigation and energy projects -which were undertaken without taking environmental dynamics into account, resulted in considerable damage to the ecological system in Turkey. 4
By focusing on economic development, Turkey long neglected environmental issues and treated the natural world as simply a resource for exploitation. Hence, Turkey did not develop a political program of environmental protection until the 2000s, despite numerous pressing ecological issues, such as the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl in 1987.
It is fair to say that overall there has been only sporadic implementation of environmental policies during the past three decades. However, such practices were not outside the law; a brief study of Turkish legal history reveals the existence of a substantial body of legislation on the matter, with environmental rights and duties shared between the central government and local bodies. 5 However, this legislation was often ignored, and legal bodies often failed to enforce sanctions concerning industrial pollution, waste disposal, deforestation and the exploitation of water resources. Moreover, there was no effective international pressure to push the government to pass proper legislation on the matter.
A rapid increase in environmental problems and rising international pressure on the matter have pushed the government to take proper measures to pass laws, decrees and regulations for the protection of the environment, in additions to norms on air and water quality. Thanks to the support and encouragement of international organizations, the government has finally begun -- modestly, so far --
to introduce institutional and legal changes governing the management of the environment.
A brief comparison between European countries and Turkey reveals that environmental concerns only gained public prominence very recently in the latter. While the emergence of ecological movements and parties can be dated to the late 1970s in Europe, in Turkey, the first green party was founded in 2002, after a precursor party was shut down in 1994.
Chronologically, the first institutional attempt by the Turkish government to respond to environmental concerns dates back to 1978, when an undersecretary for the environment at the Prime Ministry was created in order to coordinate various activities concerning the environment. The first law on the environment was written in 1983 by this body. This environmental body grew in importance, becoming a separate Ministry of the Environment in 1991.6 In 2004, the Ministry of the Environment was merged with the Forestry Ministry, 7 principally as a response to EU calls for improvement in the coordination of environmental policies. Needless to say, bodies such as the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health also have to deal with environmental questions within their areas of responsibility. Since 2004, Turkey’s Ministry of the Environment -- and more recently the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization -- has been considered the focal point in the country concerning environmental issues by the EU and the United Nations. In addition, municipalities and administrative bodies of the central government in all 81 provinces are charged with the implementation of environmental policies at the local level. 8 This well-defined organizational structure is also enshrined in the Constitution, which sets out a series of articles on the rights and obligations of the state and citizens to protect the environment. 9
In spite of the allegedly “perfect” task division between local and national institutions, the operation of public institutions remains determined by the central government. As a local administrator noted: “Local policies are not elaborated independently from national ones. It’s particularly difficult especially when it comes to questions concerning a large portion of the population. The main function of local entities is to execute policies made at the national level in the shortest time period.” 10 The most symbolic example of this is the implementation of the action plan for the Konya Plain (the Konya Plain Project), designed to fight against drought and desertification. Public entities, academic staff at a local university, associations and local enterprises and business organizations came together to design solutions to facilitate the irrigation of cultivated soil in the plain, which was under an increasing threat of drought. In 2010, a local official in Konya stated: “We have been working on the Konya Plain Project for years. A number of associations and organizations including the Chamber of Commerce, researchers from the University of Selçuk, the provincial governorate and so on have come together in order to design this plan. Yet, we’re still waiting for the finances. We were told that the plan would be merged with the current national plan of economic planning but we have now realized that this is not the case. The plan has been submitted for the approval of the State Planning Organization (DPT). Although the situation of agriculture [in the plain] is alarming, the priorities of Ankara and Konya [province] do not always coincide.” 11 In addition, the divergent priorities of economic development at the local and national level give way to contradictory tendencies. In Konya, for example, although the region is suffering from a progressively worsening dry climate, sugar beet -- which requires intensive irrigation -- is still subsidized, even though there are other agricultural products that might better adapt to the region’s climatic conditions. This choice is justified by the existence of an advanced sugar industry in the region.
The centralization of public policy has usually constituted an obstacle to the flexible implementation of environmental policies. In spite of the existing legislation on the matter, there has been limited implementation because local actors have limited powers, having been deprived of sufficient means to allow them to take proper action. The institutional weaknesses of environmental bodies has gone hand in hand with the fact that the government has tended to hide its failure to monitor violations and impose effective sanctions where necessary. 12
Nevertheless, there is a mismatch between attempts to integrate environmental concerns into development
The first institutional atte mpt by the Turkish government to respond to environmental concerns date s bac k to 1978
plans and the country’s institutional inefficiency and complacent attitudes about monitoring and implementation. Although the government has been very active in the introduction of laws on the environment, the lack of funding and staff has jeopardized their effectiveness. In 2010, we observed that more than half of the staff of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry was composed of engineers, with a near total absence of sociologists and economists. Hence, public works were almost entirely technical in nature and did not take into account human and social dimensions.
The way in which environmental questions were treated in Turkey during the 1990s is illustrated by the fact that no specific attention was paid to the works and recommendations of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission of 1987). This was the first serious attempt to show that environmental problems were strictly related to specific forms of development. Yet, before 1989, environmental concerns were treated as being separate from questions of development. Furthermore, the recommendations of the Rio Earth Summit13 (the Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD], the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC], the summit’s declaration and Agenda 21) had little effect on changing the relative priorities of development and the environment in Turkey. The sole exception was about water, and the recommendations made in Agenda 21 were used as the basis of development projects.
Taking into account the theories of the environment elaborated by Jacques Theys, one could argue that the issue of the environment in Turkey is one aspect of a nexus of relationships between the human and the natural environments, qualified and even quantified in terms of economic utility until the mid-1990s. 14 Theys’s theory considers the environment in all its forms but it restricts the field to areas used by and for humans. 15
Influenced by the increase in international concerns about “sustainable development” since the second half of the 1990s, both NGOs and the Turkish government began to link environmental issues with development. A utilitarian conception of the environment has gradually been replaced (albeit quite minimally) by a conception focusing on human-nature relations. In other words, it determines what is acceptable in nature for human beings and vice versa. It defines the environment “as a nexus of problems, risks and dysfunctions of which perception varies in time and space, and as a public and private sphere of action.” 16 Therefore, focusing merely on the immediate effects of human activities on the environment appears less likely, since such activities might have further noteworthy consequences. 17 As a signatory of a number of international protocols and agreements on the protection of the environment, Turkey has demonstrated its commitment to partnership with NGOs in the field of development. The national program on the environment and development issued for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 is a good example. Turkey asked a number of civil society
organizations and academics to help prepare for the event. This was the first systematic attempt to establish an institutional relationship between the approach to the environment and development in Turkey.
Turkish legislation on the environment comprises 20 laws, 27 international conventions and agreements and 15 decrees, all concerning various spheres of the environment. 18 This legal framework changes rapidly and the laws, agreements and decrees could well have increased since the publication of this paper. Furthermore, one should pay attention to a particular situation concerning the practice of this legislation: While more than half of the laws and 11 of the conventions and decrees were promulgated after 2002, the rest took more than 25 years to be adopted. Turkey took five years to ratify the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.
What changed with regard to the Turkish government’s approach to the environment that it decided to sign up to such agreements? Apart from tragedies such as the explosion of an oil tanker in the Bosporus Strait in 1994,19 Turkey has not experienced dramatic ecological catastrophes, excluding some prolonged but local droughts. There are two main reasons for the change: On the one hand, Turkey has progressively grown aware of the local effects of CC, thanks to studies led by a number of public institutions, especially the National Institute of Meteorology, on pluvial flooding and desertification tendencies. 20 On the other hand, given the country’s progress toward integration with EU norms, Turkey has adopted a strategy of taking part in international negotiations on the environment in order to increase its prestige and to find foreign funding for environmental projects necessitating financial support. Initially, the latter reason helped the establishment of public policies concerning CC; then, it contributed to a consolidation in the fight against CC -- namely, the implementation of a genuine public environmental policy.
The role of international public policy transfers in Turkey
The first studies on policy transfers21 were launched in the US in the 1960s to arrive at a better understanding of local public policies. Research at the international level led to the identification of the factors that determined the rhythm and extent of the transmission of an innovation within a nexus of organizational and institutional units that are supposed to adopt it. 22
Policy transfer studies offer a better understanding of how and why some problems come to the public policy agenda in a country. These studies might also offer a proper basis for an understanding of environmental policy in Turkey. In particular, the theory of new institutionalism makes available a set of analytical tools that allow an understanding of Turkey’s decision to focus on the environment and CC as a means of increasing its prestige.
Two main orientations in Turkish foreign policy were decisive factors in the arrival of CC as a part of public policy. The first was the arrival of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), a conservative party, to power. The AK Party’s foreign policy has been shaped by the ideas of former Foreign Minister and current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. In his book “Strategic Depth,” Davutoğlu underlines the necessity of solving problems with its neighbors and simultaneously accelerating the negotiation process with the EU if Turkey is to become a regional power. 23 In accordance with this objective, Turkey has to improve its image at the international level and to prove cooperative in the settlement of global problems such as the environment.
The second orientation is the gradual harmonization with the EU of all public policies. By 2010, senior officials at the Foreign Ministry thought that the country needed to focus on “the improvement of international prestige of the country. This depended on the ratification of international agreements that were recommended by Western countries and concerned many areas, including related to the human and environmental rights.” 24
On the basis of these two orientations, the key to understanding Turkey’s decision to promote action against CC is, as the new institutionalists point out, to see that it involves the adoption of a set of solutions that are fashionable in the international arena more than a rational choice. From this point of view, policy transfers are considered less a part of scientifically elaborated strategies through which political actors seek to increase their efficiency and effectiveness than the expression of a need for legitimation: By participating in CC
Two main orientati ons in Turkish foreign policy were deci sive in the arival of climate change as part of public policy
agreements, Turkey seeks to demonstrate that the country is acting properly to achieve a goal socially valorized. Consequently, Turkey seeks to show its confidence in and support for the actors that will carry out environmental activities. 25
This strategy of involvement seems to be effective given that as Turkey becomes more involved in international CC agreements, more projects and new funding prospects also materialize. For example, Turkey is worried about desertification and, therefore, has taken part from 1992 onwards in negotiations on the preparation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Turkey has been one of its signatory countries since 1994.
Turkey worked toward changing its status within the UNFCCC during the COP-7 Conference held in Marrakesh in 2001. Although not agreeing to Annex 2, Turkey supported Annex 1 and its particular conditions were accepted. 26 Turkey signed and promulgated the UNFCCC with parliamentary approval in May 2004. This strategy -- which consists, first of all, of negotiating its status within the convention and making ratification dependent on the success of the negotiations -- makes it clear that Turkey considers CC to be an external constraint but also a strategic resource. Turkey started a policy of trying to adhere to the formal elements of an agreement in order to preserve or improve its reputation in an area in which it is involved, while making arrangements appropriate to Turkey’s situation, interests and specific needs, all beneath a veneer of compliance. 27 A ministry bureaucrat specializing in questions relating to CC has stated: “Even if Turkey is formally included on the list of developed countries [in Annex I], this is not very credible, given the country’s own social and economic indicators. On the basis of the country’s individual role in CO2 emission, Turkey is a developing country. It may remain on the list, but [Turkey] cannot be expected to follow the same involvement criteria as OECD countries.” 28 This desire to be included in the list of OECD countries without respecting the implied involvement matches Turkey’s foreign policy, which comprises a desire to be considered among European countries. This emphasis on European identity, which is illustrated by membership of many Western organizations -- such as the European Council and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and NATO -- might be linked to Turkey’s international negotiations over CC.
In order to manage these multi-dimensional interactions, a council for the coordination of Turkey’s CC activities has been set up, intended to centralize environmental policies and determine a “focal point” that will assume, through the relevant ministry, the main responsibility of leading all agreements and negotiations on the environment between Turkey and the relevant international organizations. 29 Also in 2004, a project was launched to support the preparation of the first national communication of Turkey about CC thanks to financing from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The communication was made public in January 2007. Afterwards, Turkey drafted a document detailing its CC strategy, which was co-financed by the UNDP and the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Ankara. The document was published in December 2009.
Turkey’s EU candidacy and pressure from European institutions led Turkey to deepen its involvement with regard to CC, 30 with a notable development being the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in February 2009. Signing the Kyoto Protocol was a part of a strategy to
obtain national prestige, as a bureaucrat of the Ministry of Environment stated: “Many countries were surprised when Turkey signed Kyoto. An ambassador of a nonsignatory country invited the Environment Ministry to give its reasons. They even asked us why Turkey had changed its position on the agreement overnight. […] We underlined that given the changing conditions of the world and as a candidate for the EU, Turkey was convinced of the necessity of being involved in the Kyoto Protocol.” 31
Finally, Turkey needs the support of international institutions to realize its projects and put environmental policies in practice. Domestic financing is not enough for the realization of action plans. Demonstrating the country’s engagement with respect to rules, ideas and practices allows Turkey to raise its prestige -particularly with the EU and the UN -- and offers a range of advantages: It is easier to legitimize its activity when the country seems to have respect for principles based on consensus, rather than demonstrating the effectiveness of each action. Through this approach, Turkey increases its appeal to investors, highly qualified workers and customers. Turkey, according to this strategy, enhances its chances of obtaining certificates, quality labels, relevant authorization and the other benefits and, finally, enjoys a better reputation. 32
A closer examination of public projects on the environment allows us to observe that a great number of them are devoted to adaptation to and mitigation of CC and that all projects are financed by foreign sources, mainly coming from EU countries or UN institutions such as the UNDP and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). All projects include the participation of many NGOs and various other enterprises. A great deal of funding is obviously devoted to capacity building for the environment in Turkey.
International-funding based projects are not limited to the implementation of national policies. There are also many local projects that rely on foreign funding. Most of these projects were started after Turkey signed the UNFCCC. Such involvement has allowed Turkey to prioritize projects long suspended because of a lack of funding, such as the case of the Konya Plain Project. Many projects and programs have been launched at the local level. Countries like Spain, the Netherlands and Japan have also contributed to this. Japan’s funding is predominantly devoted to projects targeting the Konya and Seyhan Plains, supporting better use of water and the fight against drought in agriculture. The Netherlands is financing the protection project of Salt Lake and watersaving in the Konya Plain. These projects are under the supervision of the Environment Ministry and involve the participation of NGOs such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA). Agro-alimentary enterprises such as the company Eti and Coca Cola also finance these projects. Eti, TEMA and the WWF are focused on water use in agriculture and the education of farmers about rentable and effective irrigation techniques. 33 The Regional Environment Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), an international NGO based in Hungary, came to Ankara in 2005 in order to lead capacity-building activities aimed at public institutions and enterprises. All these activities have been implemented thanks to sources provided by the UN. An official at the REC involved in the project defines the objective of the organization as “strengthening the capacity of Turkey in environmental concerns in legal, technical, institutional and financial terms and thus accelerating the process of effective implementation of the acquis communautaire.” 34
The Environment Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs also lead public projects. This included policies aimed at promoting villagebased agricultural production, which supports farmers’ self-sufficiency. There are also credit cooperation and finance programs targeting irrigation micro-projects by drip-irrigation or aspersion techniques, or transition to organic agriculture. Similarly, species
resistant to droughts in agriculture and in forests specific to each region have been specified and these species are used in reforestation activities. 35
The role of Europe
The convergence of public policies in a European orientation has been the main factor in the rapid evolution of some sectors. Claudio Radaelli defines Europeanization as “a process of construction, diffusion and institutionalization of formal and informal rules, procedures, paradigms, styles, action recipes, as well as of norms and beliefs. All of these were, first of all, defined and consolidated during the fabrication of European policies. Afterwards, they were incorporated in the logic of discourse, identities, political structures and public policies at the domestic level.” 36
In the case of Turkey, the UN provided financial support for adaptation and mitigation CC projects in Turkey, but Europe also played a key role in the implementation of a legal framework by exercising pressure on the country; the substantial reforms made to the national framework are mainly due to the introduction of European policies. This implies a change in the practices of domestic actors. 37 In fact, all environmental laws promulgated by the Turkish Parliament result from the convergence with EU norms that was brought about with the objective of achieving common legislation at the European level. The declaration of the European Principles for the Environment (EPE) states that these principles “consist of the guiding environmental principles enshrined in the EC Treaty and projectspecific practices and standards incorporated in EU secondary legislation on the environment. [It covers] the EU 25 and European Economic Area (EEA) countries, the EU Acceding, Candidate and potential Candidate Countries and the Countries that are covered in the ‘European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument. […] the projects in this region should comply with any obligations and standards enshrined in relevant Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs).” 38
Turkey focused on adaptation to EU norms on the protection of the environment, agriculture, forests and pastures. A number of laws concerning the protection of natural sources, the pollution of irrigation water, regulations on drought and the loss of aquatic surfaces, the use of water and soil and on the foundation of agricultural unions were designed and implemented between 2005 and 2008.39
Seen from this perspective, Europeanization seems essential to the implementation of both regulatory regimes that are difficult to avoid and policies based on the exchange of information and ideas, flexible coordination, moral pressures exercised by peers and incentives. 40
The increasing role of both the EU and international organizations like the UN in public policies on the environment in Turkey might, in addition to policy transfer studies, be analyzed through the notion of “referentials.” 41 Pierre Muller has written how development plans were influenced by a weltanschauung focused on modernization. A development plan was, according to Muller, a nexus for the elaboration of what he would later call a “modernizing referential.” 42 From Turkey’s perspective, CC policies were what development plans were to France; they play the same modernizing role to the extent that they are defined as an area gathering a variety of actors that represent the desire of respectability of a country but also the desire for the professionalization and rationalization of an administration that for a long time lacked experts. In this sense, they are based on a desire for both modernization referentials and prestige referentials.
The intensive use of chemical products and pesticides in agriculture resulted in considerable damage to the ecological system in Turkey.
Legal bodies have often failed to enforce sanctions concerning industrial pollution.
The Konya Plain Project was designed to fight drought and desertification in the region.