UNLEASH Insights: Prospects for Renewable Energy in Turkey after Paris COP21 Summit

Turkey is a developed OECD country in the league of G-20 with close to 4% projected GDP growth rate per annum in 2016-17. Global warming due to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions constitute a common problem of mankind and draws attention from countries at the top of the industrial league to emerging ones alike, and Turkey is no exception to this. Since 1994, UNFCCC treaty obliges adopting parties to reduce the impact of global warming caused by human activities through “common but differentiated responsibilities.” Ten years after its inauguration, Turkey ratified only the Annex-I of the UNFCCC in 2004 and is therefore exempted from the obligation to undertake GHG emissions reduction commitments. Likewise, after tense negotiations and only then in 2009 following the third conference of the parties (COP3), Turkey became a signatory to Kyoto Protocol, but limited its responsibility to Annex I of the UNFCCC without introducing new commitments. 

An OnFrontiers-UNLEASH expert S. Süha Çubukçuoglu would like to share his insights on prospects for renewable energy in Turkey after Paris COP21 Summit.

We welcome everyone to share your opinion on this topic in the comment area!

1. Overview of COP21 Summit’s Implications 

Research reveals that 71% of CO2 emissions in Turkey are caused by the industry and coal- based power plants that contribute to 29% of electricity generation. On the global scale, well- established scientific evidence shows that the world’s human-induced GHG emissions, of which CO2 makes up 80%, that cause an enhanced greenhouse effect come from combustion of fossil fuels. These facts provide invaluable forecast about risks and courses of possible action to insure against them. By looking at current trends, it is not difficult to estimate that production of conventional oil & gas will peak and decline in the 21st century. Economic growth, prosperity, and better lives will be made possible with low carbon-footprint. 

The UNFCCC COP21 summit in 2015, held in Paris, set a cornerstone in global energy revolution as for the first time, it brought 175 countries into a common cause to curb net CO2 emissions and limit global temperature rise to 2°C, however optimistic this target may still seem to be. Adoption of renewable and clean energy technologies plays a key role to implement this action plan. From that perspective, Turkey’s active participation and contribution to gradually phase out coal and fuel power to replace them with solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower will help preserve the environment for our future generations and for the world as a whole. As a growing economy, Turkey has demonstrated significant progress in its efforts to combat climate change through sustainable development principle, which is to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Turkey should continue to foster environmentally friendly, innovative policies to decarbonize energy through market liberalization, public- private partnerships, technology transfer, carbon taxation, and financial assistance for green investments. With Paris accord, Turkey has declared to commit up to 21% further reduction in carbon emissions rate from its current levels by 2030. It is crucial to emphasize that Paris COP21 is a non-binding treaty and intended national contributions are determined solely by each participating country on a voluntary basis. It is expected that the treaty will be ratified by signatories and enter into force within the next year.

2. Renewable Energy Policy in Turkey 

Turkey still has abundant potential to increase efficiency in energy production, distribution, and consumption. Therefore, it is imperative to adopt solutions that address energy supply and demand inefficiencies in order to reduce carbon emissions. From an economic perspective, the impact of further market liberalization and higher efficiency would be to reduce import bills and wasteful fuel subsidies, thus contributing to GDP growth. The responsibility to adopt renewable energy also lays with the private sector, which has been encouraged and incentivized by the government to invest and participate in power generation. Yet, there is more work to be done to update the legislation, further develop the transmission infrastructure, and increase investor awareness to attract potential suppliers. 

There has been an unprecedented decline in global oil investments in two consecutive years, and lower oil prices will remain as a reality for years to come. The forecast for crude oil price this year is that it will hover around $45-$52 band. However, this temporary situation should not preclude policymakers from adopting long-term measures to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Turkey is a net importer of energy, with a gaping current account deficit at 4.5% of GDP in 2016, part of which, despite substantial improvement since 2014, is due to price of fuel imports and has been exacerbated by the turmoil within Turkey’s neighborhood. Access to cheaper, cleaner, and more sustainable energy supply would help Turkey to ease its current account deficit and help to realize its vision for the centennial anniversary in 2023. Turkey should maintain a disincentive through carbon taxation against the consumption of oil by private entities. Taxation is a better, non-distorting, and transparent way to reduce emissions than policies such as subsidies or mandates for renewable energy. To the extent that renewable energy replaces carbon-intensive fuels, Turkey can further diversify its energy supplies and contribute to the mitigation of urban pollution and CO2 emissions. 

According to IEA, 46% of global CO2 emissions resulted from coal as of 2013, and in order to meet COP21 criteria 80% of coal reserves must remain untouched. Although coal has been replaced by shale gas using fracking technologies in the US, for instance, 40% of electricity generation worldwide still comes from coal, the usage of which is high especially in emerging countries like India and China. In a similar fashion, Turkey planned to construct 86 new coal-fired power stations as of 2013 that can increase coal-based GHG emissions by 60% until 2030, ranking Turkey as the fourth largest polluter in the G-20 league. According to sector players, the government reintroduced a number of incentives and exemptions from environmental regulations until 2020 for privatized coal-fired power plants. These plants threaten the achievement of already inadequate targets and suggest that emissions from coal could more than double. Although the intention behind building coal-fired plants is to reduce import dependency, especially on natural gas, Turkey readily imports 32% of its total coal consumption and is dependent on hard-coal imports to meet 90% of this demand, which in fact presents a policy inconsistency. Also, majority of lignite coal reserves in Turkey are of low quality and unsuitable for enrichment, which render these unfit for investment for electricity generation. 

Turkey’s EPDK should no longer grant licenses to coal-fired plants; at least it should ban the construction of inefficient plants. To incentivize coal power generation while the World Bank and EIDB limit project finance is against the spirit of the COP21. Even Chinese investors, now that their own economy has slowed, do not pay great interest in such projects anymore. Subsidized coal-power plants create overcapacity, inefficiency, and perpetuate imported energy. Turkish Ministry of Energy should engage well-financed private sector actors such as TUSIAD to develop sustainability practices and technologies that enable energy innovation to install larger, more efficient plants. Special attention should be devoted to SMEs that represent 46% of Turkish industry energy consumption and require mid-to-long term financing, such as European-funded Climate Turkey program or the World Bank’s Green Bond funding, to raise awareness, subsidize renewable energy projects and address climate risk. With the 2023 vision, Turkey should aim to increase the rate of total electricity supply capacity from renewable energy sources to 30%. Although Turkey ranks in the top three among South and Central Asian states for installed hydropower capacity, much of its potential capacity remains unutilized. By 2023, the government should provide technical advice and assistance needed by the private sector to respond to the priorities of reducing GHGs while polluting industries such as Cement Producers Association should incorporate carbon pollution costs into their long-term financial planning. This, in turn, requires assigning a quantitative value to carbon and transparency on its use. 

3. Renewable Energy Technologies in Turkey 

Technology diffusion is apace at an unprecedented rate. Globalization helped to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy technologies unlike before compared to just five years ago. The cost of solar power is now cheaper by 80%, and wind power by 30%. IEA estimates that 60% of energy investments globally in the next 25 years will be on renewable energy sources. Even the oil-rich Emirate of Abu Dhabi in the UAE demonstrated at a recent climate change meeting that it is economically, environmentally and socially beneficial to invest in clean energy and other carbon mitigation strategies. Decentralized power provision for areas without access to the electricity grid and measures to prevent price hikes for consumer protection are sine qua non for a sustainable energy policy. G20 Energy Ministers recognized at a recent summit in 2016 the need to drive down technology costs to support diffusion, enabling policy frameworks and power system integration, and mobilize finance in order to triple the deployment level of renewable energy by 2030. 

Research reveals that each unit of electricity produced by solar power creates eight times higher employment than coal and natural gas, and seven times more than nuclear power, which are interesting facts to note especially in the wake of recent bilateral discussions between Turkey and Russia about reviving Turkish Stream and Akkuyu Nuclear Plant projects. On the other hand, Turkey’s largest solar power plant has opened in 2016 in the province of Konya to meet the electricity demand of more than 20,000 households and help prevent an average of 18,000 tons of CO2 emissions every year. The Mediterranean basin, including Turkey, is fortunate to receive a significant amount of solar light convertible into electric power. Turkey has the second-largest sunshine duration (7.5 hours per day) in Europe after Spain. The main incentive for investors to solar energy in Turkey are feed-in tariffs, whereas other types of energy generation facilities such as wind, hydro, and biomass may be also subject to purchase guarantees, connection priorities, and license exemptions. Despite high upfront costs, if by 2023 Turkey reaches 20,000 MW of installed wind power capacity by revising its investment and licensing model, this would reduce its natural gas bill by around US$ 3 billion annually. Moreover, Turkey is ranked 7th in the world in terms of geothermal energy potential and is a founding member of IRENA. Also, the energy stock exchange of Turkey, established in 2015, is set to enhance market liberalization, increase the sector’s competitiveness, and facilitate emissions/carbon trade. 

From a more conventional perspective, IAOGP suggests that greater use of natural gas is essential in reducing GHG emissions and providing the backup power, on which wind turbines rely, which should be preferable over coal power. Nevertheless, to improve coal combustion efficiency in minimizing GHG emissions, the World Coal Association also supports the G8 / G20 target of 20 industrial-scale carbon capture and storage projects operating by 2020. Since this is a costly measure, financing for official development assistance and private sector investment in developing countries like Turkey that extensively burn coal is consistent with international climate protection goals and will require creating investment opportunities. 

Despite improvements in sustainable development, it is important to highlight that Turkey is still not a forerunner in global efforts to tackle climate change, nor has it made any legally binding commitment to reduce GHG emissions from its current levels at COP21. Developed countries such as the EU and the US have maintained leadership in setting mitigation goals to reduce CO2 emissions by varying degrees up to 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. Some developing countries like Mexico, Morocco, Kenya, and Ethiopia formulated metrics to describe a fair contribution, such as projected emissions per capita. 

Part of the challenge is to find possible ways to decouple economic growth from rising carbon emissions. Turkey, rightly to a certain extent, argues that addressing the environment reduces its development space, and that developed countries have less right to claim protected environmental space that might be needed for development. Green goods trade facilitation, carbon storage, taxation, and trade are among mitigation options suggested by climate scientists, but even if Turkey meets its 21% reduction commitment by 2030, the per capita emission will still be higher than developing countries such as China, Mexico, South Africa, and South Korea. Moreover, higher carbon footprint might implicate indirect export barriers in the form of tariffs from lower footprint countries. According to EBRD, Turkey must increase its non-hydro renewables output about sevenfold by 2023 in order to meet its objective of 30% renewable-generated power.

4. Conclusion 

In overall, if Turkey takes the right steps, it has a substantial potential to undertake renewable energy revolution, realize its vision to become an energy trade hub in an important geostrategic location, fuel its economic growth and enhance energy supply security. Turkey’s gradual shift to renewables in its energy mix should be sustained through the usage of domestic resources more likely utilizing wind and solar power instead of coal, incentives for the private sector, and better financing mechanisms to facilitate green investments. 

Diversification of supply sources especially with a focus on local renewables would cement robust economic development while, at the same time, large scale projects would undoubtedly bring economies of scale in procurement, installation, hence driving down costs and increasing efficiency. In an era of low energy prices where pressures are high to undertake cost-cutting measures and scrap extravagant projects throughout the Middle East, it is crucial to take advantage of local resources, increase infrastructure capacity, and competitiveness. These coupled with Turkey’s strategic location at the crossroads between major producers of the Middle East and demand centers of Europe, make it an ideal target of energy import and export project proposals as well as a potential energy transit hub. With a more liberal market, renewables trade, and emission reductions efforts, Turkey has all the potential to put itself on the map as an ever more important player in energy geopolitics. 


1 OECD, “Turkey Economic Forecast Summary (June 2016)”, Economy, Available from: http://www.oecd.org/economy/turkey-economic-forecast-summary.htm

2 The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

3 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Turkey, “UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol”, Available from: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change-_unfccc_-and-the-kyoto- protocol.en.mfa

4 WWF, “Turkey’s Climate Policy”, Available from: http://www.wwf.org.tr

5 World Coal Association, “Climate Change”, Available from: http://www.worldcoal.org/coal-the- environment/climate-change/

6 Harvard Kennedy School, “Making Technological Innovation Work for Sustainable Development”, 17 August 2016, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Environment and Natural Resources Program.

7 Güler Sabancı, Opening Address, IICEC 7th International Energy and Climate Forum, İstanbul, 10 June 2016.

8 Ibid.

9 Republic of Turkey Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, “Energy Supply Security”, Available from: http://sp.enerji.gov.tr/tema1.html

10 Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director, Hardtalk, Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1lplW7QSo4&feature=youtu.be (25 min)

11 Hürriyet (2016), “Energy should be further liberalized”, Ekonomi, 10 June 2016, Available in Turkish from: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/enerji-daha-da-serbestlesmeli-40116067

12 Trading Economics, Turkey: Current Account to GDP (accessed August 14, 2016); Available from: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/turkey/current-account-to-gdp

13 Qamar Energy, “Carbon Tax Would Kill Several Birds with One Stone”, Robin Mills, 10 July 2016.

14 Energy Information Administration, “Turkey: Environment”, Turkey in the 21st Century, Available from: http://www.nuce.boun.edu.tr/turkey.html

15 International Energy Agency.

16 WWF, “Paris Anlaşması Sonrası Türkiye’de Kömüre Yer Var Mı?”, Available from: http://www.wwf.org.tr

17 Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director, Hardtalk, Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1lplW7QSo4&feature=youtu.be (25 min)

18 Hürriyet (2014), “Thermic Power-Plant report is intimidating”, Health, 16 November 2013, Available in Turkish from: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/saglik-yasam/25136158.asp

19 Turkish Electricity Producers Foundation, Available in Turkish from: http://www.eud.org.tr

20 American-Turkish Council, “Bi-weekly Economic Briefing,” Issue 13, 16 May 2016, Available from: http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=09b537bb9c6e5dc91e157ad3a&id=65a9aeb8ea&e=0ced6da845

21 Climate Action Tracker, “The Coal Gap: planned coal-fired power plants inconsistent with 2 ̊C and threaten achievement of INDCs”, 1 December 2015, Available from: http://climateactiontracker.org/assets/publications/briefing_papers/CAT_Coal_Gap_Briefing_COP21.pdf

22 Mücella Ersoy, The Role of Coal in Turkey, Workshop on Best Practices in Production of Electricity from Coal, Geneva, 29 October 2015 (accessed 28 August 2016), Available from: https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/energy/se/pp/clep/ge11_ws_oct.2015/8_M.Ersoy_TURKEY.pdf

23 WWF, “Paris Anlaşması Sonrası Türkiye’de Kömüre Yer Var Mı?”, Available from: http://www.wwf.org.tr

24 Ibid.

25 Energy Market Regulation Authority of Turkey.

26 European Infrastructure and Development Bank.

27 Turkish Industry and Business Association.

28 AFC, “Climate Turkey: Investments for the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions in Turkey”, Available from: http://www.afd.fr/webdav/site/afd/shared/PORTAILS/PAYS/TURQUIE/Fiches%20projets/Fiche%20- programme%20Turqu ie%20Climat%20ENG.pdf

29 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey (1923-2023).

30 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Turkey, “UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol”, Available from: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change-_unfccc_-and-the-kyoto- protocol.en.mfa 

31 International Hydropower Association, “Hydropower Status Report”, 2016, Available from: https://www.hydropower.org/2016-hydropower-status-report

32 Cement Producers Association, “Climate Change Conference in 2013, Warsaw: Conclusions for Turkey”, Available in Turkish from: http://www.tcma.org.tr/index.php?page=icerikgoster&cntID=365

33 Hürriyet (2016), “Energy should be further liberalized”, Ekonomi, 10 June 2016, Available in Turkish from: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/enerji-daha-da-serbestlesmeli-40116067

34 Green Prophet, “Oil-rich Abu Dhabi to mobilize climate action at UN Climate Summit,” Available from: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/02/oil-rich-abu-dhabi-to-mobilize-real-climate-action-at-upcoming- talks/#sthash.62himaHV.dpuf

35 International Renewable Energy Agency, “G20 Energy Ministers Recognise Progress on Renewables, Set Stage for More Action”, Press Releases, 30 June 2016, Available from: http://www.irena.org/News/Description.aspx?NType=A&mnu=cat&PriMenuID=16&CatID=84&News_ID=1456

36 WWF, “Paris Anlaşması Sonrası Türkiye’de Kömüre Yer Var Mı?”, Available from: http://www.wwf.org.tr

37 American-Turkish Council, “Bi-weekly Economic Briefing,” Issue 13, 16 May 2016, Available from: http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=09b537bb9c6e5dc91e157ad3a&id=65a9aeb8ea&e=0ced6da845

38 Turgut Cankorel, “Turkish Solar Update”, Renewable Energy World, 18 January 2016, Available from: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2016/01/turkish-solar-update.html

39 Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey, “Energy and Renewables”, Sectors, Available from: http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/sectors/Pages/Energy.aspx

40 Hürriyet Daily News (2016), “Turkey can realize renewable energy target by changing investment model: Company”, Available from: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-can-realize-renewable-energy-target- by-changing-investment-model-company.aspx?pageID=238&nID=97050&NewsCatID=348

41 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Turkey, “Turkey’s Energy Profile and Strategy”, Available from: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/turkeys-energy-strategy.en.mfa

42 International Renewable Energy Agency.

43 Hürriyet (2015), “Türkiye’nin enerji borsası EPİAŞ kuruldu,” Ekonomi, Available from: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/turkiyenin-enerji-borsasi-epias-kuruldu-28504697

44 International Association of Oil & Gas Producers.

45 IAOGP, “Berlin EGM Focuses on industry challenges and opportunities”, 26 November 2013, Available from: http://www.ogp.org.uk/news/2013/november-2013/berlin-egm-focuses-on-industry-challenges-and- opportunities/

46 William Moomaw and Mihaela Papa, “Creating a mutual gains climate regime through universal clean energy services”, Climate Policy, 1-16, 2012.

47 COP21, “188 countries have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions”, Paris, December 2015, Available from: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/185-countries-have-committed-to-reducing-their-greenhouse- gas-emissions/

48 GreenBiz, “How COP21 Country Commitments Stack Up”, Eliza Northrop and David Waskow, 8 September 2015, Available from: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-cop21-country-commitments-stack

49 Prof. W. Moomaw, Prof. Charles C. Chester, “Transnational Social Issues: Environment”, Lecture 4, GMAP, The Fletcher School, Tufts University, 2014.

50 WWF, “Paris Anlaşması Sonrası Türkiye’de Kömüre Yer Var Mı?”, Available from: http://www.wwf.org.tr

51 European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, “EBRD supports Turkey’s shift to renewable energy”, News, 16 February 2015, Available from: http://www.ebrd.com/news/2015/ebrd-supports-turkeys-shift-to- renewable-energy.html 


S. Süha Çubukçuoglu is an expert in technology, policy, and international affairs research.