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March 06, 2013, Wednesday

An alarming act against nature conservation

Over the past decade, “the economy” has become the fundamental social value in Turkey. Economic activity that in the past was limited to İstanbul and a few Anatolian cities has rapidly become today's common market. Turkey has become familiar with having money and become addicted to consumption. Is there any room for environmental concern in this hedonistic fiesta? For the rural people who are now enjoying the blessings of city life, is "the environment" an issue that entails a sort of backwardness? Aren't all developing nations going down the same path?

The urgent environmental situation has no time to wait for those who joyfully develop and grow, however. Serious scientific research tells us that the world is moving towards man-made irreversible imbalances in nature. Despite that, the political and economic decision-makers act like the three wise monkeys. Our government is one of the champions of this development race as it pushes for limitless service for the people, no matter the price. The problem is that the price is the very future of the country.

The latest environmentally unfriendly tool will soon become law. Once adopted, the future of the land and soil of this country will be left to the discretion of the government and the bureaucracy. The first 14 articles of the text mockingly referred to as the “draft law on the protection of nature and biological diversity” were adopted by the parliamentary Environment Commission last May. Its history is rather long. A draft that had been in circulation since 2003 was finally ready in 2009. The text met with strong opposition from the European Commission and the Nature Law Watch Initiative, which is made up of 90 civil society organizations. The text was withdrawn in the face of the opposition; but as usual, it was reinserted in the legislative process. The EU harmonization we frequently hear about has no relevance in this case because Turkey is unlikely to meet the five closing criteria in the Environment Chapter, and with this newest law, the gap will widen further.

‘Protection of natural environment supreme public interest'

The bill that is being discussed opens the country's natural and cultural lands for the use of the mining, energy, intensive agriculture and tourism industries by referring to some vague notions such as “protection-utilization balance” and “supreme public interest.” However, the Council of State, in a lawsuit filed by local residents against a hydroelectric power plant in the Black Sea region, endorsed the judgment of the regional administrative court on the suspension of its execution and issued the landmark decision allowing the development to proceed. By virtue of jurisprudence, it could be argued that the bill has become the subject of many legal disputes and controversies.

All progress made with respect to the preservation of nature in Turkey since 1958 could be reversed with this law that makes it possible to change or remove the boundaries of the protected zones. These areas currently constitute only 4 percent of the land in Turkey, whereas the common standard is 15 percent. The initial draft envisaged the inclusion of scientific circles, relevant public institutions, civil society organizations and the local residents of the protected areas in the decision-making processes. The final draft, however, has no such provisions for the participation of local and national bodies of this kind.

Turkey's 41 national parks, 31 natural protection areas, 107 natural monuments, 184 natural parks, 80 wildlife development areas, 12 wetlands and thousands of woodlands presently under protection are being preserved by independent boards. If this bill is adopted, the independent bodies will have no authority over the natural preservation areas. The boards and bodies that would determine the fate of these areas will no longer be independent; the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization will appoint the board members.

In the end, the great natural heritage of Turkey, with its rather exceptional geographic location and more than 3,500 native plants, is facing a huge risk of irreversible extinction due to the economic development policy of which this bill is an indispensable component. But don't mention it as long as the economy keeps growing.

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