Guest post by Elif Gündüzyeli
This year marked the tenth anniversary of the G20’s commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. And yet again, no action was taken to finally walk the talk, and shift public money away from fossil fuels. A recent report shows that G20 spends at least US$64 billion/year in supporting coal alone.
Moreover, Japanese presidency did not hesitate offering a future ‘clean coal’ partnership with Turkey, in order to make up for the not-really-happening-because-not-really-profitable nuclear power plant project. It is about time for everyone to be clear on the fact that the only clean coal is the coal kept in the ground. Science is clear: Once you dig up coal, transport it, and then burn it, it is no longer clean.
Turkey is one of only two G20 countries that have not ratified the Paris Agreement. The country plans to increase its coal-fired energy production to 30 GW, according to its 2023 energy vision. It means around 10 GWs of new coal plants to be added on top of the existing 20 GWs. However, although generous amounts of subsidies and incentives are given in order to be able to reach this goal, coal is neither popular among citizens, nor attractive for investors.
Coal projects are highly opposed by many local communities. In fact, wherever a coal project is planned in Turkey, there is a local resistance. Local fights, on top of coal’s declining competitiveness, shifted quite some investor attention to solar and wind projects in recent years. So the decision makers should stop pedalling against the waves: give up on coal dreams, and rather shift public subsidies towards a just transition, for the transformation of coal regions.
The IPCC’s special report on 1.5˚C, released last October, clearly showed that hitting 1.5°C of warming comes with a high cost for people and ecosystems, and exceeding that will cause irreversible damage. The so-called “external costs” of coal, such as health, pollution and climate impacts, are actually the real costs that are paid by the inhabitants of the planet. Any dollar taken from tax-payers’ pockets and given to coal, will literally, throw more coal into the fire.
Turkey’s current climate commitment is rated as “critically insufficient”, meaning it is inconsistent with limiting warming to below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C, as required by the Paris Agreement. Moreover, the country keeps increasing the share of support for fossil fuels in the public budget. In 2016, Turkey provided US$4.1bn in fossil fuel subsidies, around four times the amount in 2007. According to a recent study, every dollar Turkey gives to fossil fuel industry in terms of subsidies, costs ten dollars in health budget. Despite the lifelines extended to sinking coal, auctions for new coal projects do not get much attention. Eskişehir Alpu coal mine and plant project, although silverlined with purchase guarantees and biased environmental impact assessment processes, has had its auction postponed seven times since 2017. The project’s auction process finally got cancelled earlier this month because no investors were interested. An analysis by Greenpeace shows that the public money allocated for this project, by means of price and purchase guarantee, could be used to more than double the installed solar PV capacity in the country.
Turkey should stop coal-fired power generation by 2030, along with other OECD countries, as advised by scientists. In fact, the country has all the reasons to do so. It is located in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin, a region with high solar energy potential, but also with high climate fragility. European Environment Agency estimates that Turkey lost 5 million Euros, and 1700 lives, due to extreme weather events between 1980-2017. According to Turkish Meteorological Services the increase in annual average temperature levels started to go off the normal range since 1997. In 2017, the average temperature increase was already 1.5°C above 1970 levels.
However, fossil fuels still account for most of Turkey’s total primary energy supply, and no commitment for emissions reductions has been announced. Even the northern parts of Turkey possess solar energy potential comparable to some parts of Europe’s leading solar electricity generation centers, such as Spain, Italy, and Greece. Given its geographical location and high potential for solar and wind energy, Turkey is well placed not only to step up for ambitious climate action, but also to advocate for a just transition away from fossil fuels during bilateral meetings with other countries, and within the G20 and the OECD.
While most attention has been on Japan, the host of the G20 summit, this month, China’s high-carbon plans in its Belt and Road Initiative should also be highlighted. The World’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas, China, recently pledged to increase its climate targets by 2020. While calling other countries to “increase cooperation to fight climate change”, the country plans to invest in and finance new coal deals in various countries. Turkey is one of them. The Emba Hunutlu Thermal Power Plant, worth an estimated $1.7B, planned in Southern coast of Turkey has been advertised as the biggest Chinese direct investment project in Turkey. It is a 1320 MWs new coal plant to be developed by a joint venture led by Chinese Shanghai Electric Power Co. The project is strongly opposed by civil society and local communities as it is planned on a biodiversity conservation area.
The real costs of coal cannot be measured and monetized; they are paid by the lives of people and other inhabitants of the world. If a country claims increasing its climate ambition, pouring money into coal elsewhere is out of the picture. The billion dollars, wasted only to keep a dying industry alive, should and can be shifted to support a low-carbon, climate resilient future. People demand it; investors reshuffle their portfolio; decision makers should start riding the tide.