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Environmental Diplomacy: Turkey's Potential - Büşra Selin Kartal


The necessity for states to make joint decisions on the environment and climate has initiated environmental diplomacy. Issues such as climate change, global warming, regional sustainable development, protection of natural life, and biological balance, which do not occur within a single country's borders, can commonly affect the citizens of the world. Moreover, transboundary problems require countries to cooperate. Thanks to environmental diplomacy, which enables states to take action on environmental and climate issues and regulate the actions taken, it is possible to impose sanctions on states that do not fulfill their responsibilities. It covers all kinds of environmental policies, from multilateral agreements made by states on the environment to conflict resolution. While states are unwilling to cooperate, especially on security and political issues, they prefer to do diplomacy on matters that will affect other countries' public in a good way, such as the environment. In addition, even only two countries can organize conferences and workshops and sign agreements to resolve their environmental sensitivities. It makes environmental diplomacy one of the best options for countries that want to strengthen their diplomatic ties. Although the term originally covered only the diplomatic works of nation-states on environmental concerns, it has become more comprehensive today with the complexity of climate and environmental issues and the participation of different actors. The fact that not only states but also non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations participate in this field; facilitates the states prioritizing of environmental policies. These organizations also act as diplomacy tools.


Although environmental diplomacy is used extensively today, the history of the concept does not go back that far. It can be said that the emergence of the concept started when countries began to increase their awareness of the environment and understand the necessity of taking joint responsibility for the environment. The "United Nations Conference on the Human Environment," which was held in 1972 with the increase of environmental concerns in the 1960s, is the international conference that would later play a role in establishing UNEP. Established in 1973, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is considered the keystone of environmental diplomacy. Although there were bilateral environmental agreements before that, UNEP acts as an international body to coordinate all these efforts. After this date, it is seen that international contacts have increased. In addition, instead of seeing the environment and economic development as two separate and contradictory concepts, the understanding that the two can go together has begun to be accepted. Countries have started to prioritize sustainable development, and this has become one of the main topics of many environment and climate summits. With this understanding, the UN General Assembly united environment and development concepts and established World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1983. The official definition of sustainable development made by the Brundtland Commission Report named by Brundtland, who chaired WCED in 1987, is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."


Turkey is a party to numerous international environmental agreements, and it has been observed that, especially since the 90s, participation in international works on the environment and climate is high. Although Turkey did not have an emission reduction commitment, it became a party to the Kyoto Protocol in 2009. However, the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2020. The Paris Agreement was approved by the parliament in Turkey in 2021 and entered into force. In addition, Turkey is a party to many regional environmental agreements. Turkey became a party to the "Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution, Barcelona Convention, in 2002 and hosted the 22nd Conference of the Parties in 2021. Turkey is also a party to the Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution and actively coordinates the work of the Land-Based Pollutants Control Activity Centre. The country also participates in many projects of UNEP and regularly provides financial support to the UNEP Environment Fund.


While seeking solutions to many global and regional environmental and climate problems thanks to environmental diplomacy, the environmental issue encounters common problems with other diplomacy fields. Taking action on an important issue in foreign policy can sometimes conflict with priorities in domestic politics, which poses a serious obstacle in terms of environment and climate issues. In particular, conflicts of the opinion of different interest groups affect this field. For example, in a country that has committed to international agreements to reduce carbon emissions, business groups may worry that they will not be able to reduce carbon emissions as planned. This situation may cause pressure on the government. In addition, although the current trend is sustainable development, we cannot say that every country considers it on its agenda. For this, countries have to fulfill some conditions and reasons such as regional terrorism cause countries to put sustainability in the background. Even if a government takes this into its agenda, it may still face the reaction of interest groups in the country. In addition, the inability of the international arena to impose sanctions also affects environmental diplomacy as one of the general dilemmas of diplomacy. New solutions must be found that will ensure regulation and provide partial enforcement.


However, aside from the difficulties of this type of diplomacy, there is a serious public diplomacy potential for countries that turn to environmental diplomacy. The countries' efforts to compromise for the environment by leaving aside their other problems make a good impression on the people of other countries. In addition, since the environment is a sensitive issue, it will create a good image to take the lead in the world. In addition, like organizing international events such as the Olympics that contribute organizer country, international environmental summits, forums, and events offer great benefits both in terms of economy, network and image. The fact that countries have organized dozens of summits and few agreements have resulted usually causes the summits to be seen as political theatre. However, it can be seen as a means of communication between countries, where countries convey their responsibilities to each other. In this respect, it can be said that there is a race to become the center of environmental diplomacy. Turkey is a country that both wants to expand its global diplomatic network and has great environmental concerns. So, it has the potential to play a leading role in environmental diplomacy. Here, the criterion of adequacy is not to be a perfect example in terms of environment and climate, but to be an exemplary country that makes the most effort for the environment and climate issue, which also eventually helps to reduce environmental concerns.