The climate may change, but Turkey’s policies do not

The climate may change, but Turkey’s policies do not

According to a UNDP report, landslides and floods have accounted for 25 and 10 percent of Turkey's natural disasters over the last 25 years, respectively.

September 21, 2008, Sunday/ 11:29:00
Even though the first-ever comprehensive study on climate change in Turkey has shown alarming results, Turkish institutions have neither adopted significant measures nor produced more studies to better understand the phenomenon.

According to projections made by İstanbul Technical University's Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences (EIES), most of Turkey in the last 10 years of this century will face drastically increased temperatures. This is especially true for summer months, when thermometers show an increase of between three and five degrees Celsius depending on the region compared to the period between 1961 and 1990.

However, Professor Nüzhet Dalfes, who is among the scientists who prepared the climate change report for Turkey, says we should expect confusing signals over the next 20-30 years, as there will be years when there is more rain and there will be other years when there are more days of hot weather. He said nobody should be fooled by a few years of variation in rainfall or hot spells and people should not conclude that "global warming is a joke" nor that "the climate has changed and it is going to destroy the world," because the important thing is the long-term trends.

If global temperatures continue to rise at the predicted levels, a five-degree increase that is likely to occur by the end of the century will dramatically change the way people live. Internationally recognized scientists have made it clear that millions of people will face water shortages, cereal production will decrease, coastal floods will create environmental refugees, species will increasingly face extinction and the world will see increased mortality from heat waves, floods and droughts. "The warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level," according to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in 2007.

Turkey cannot escape the global trend. Dalfes says there are various models on which to base predictions, but they have chosen one that will produce an extreme scenario.

He said their study was completed in February with support from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) and it was a step toward fulfilling Turkey’s obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Most countries joined the UNFCCC more than a decade ago to figure out what could be done to reduce global warming and to cope with inevitable temperature increases. Turkey finally joined the UNFCCC as the 189th member country in 2004.

Early last year the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Forestry submitted the country’s first national communication, including a greenhouse gas inventory, to the UNFCCC, describing economic, demographic and energy developments.

“Turkey has been late in joining the climate change debate and studying climate change and its effects, but serious projection work has begun with this analysis,” he said.

So Dalfes and 11 other scientists took the IPCC’s global climate change projections and analyzed it to obtain high-resolution climate change scenarios for Turkey up until the end of the century.

Rise of five to six degrees year round by century’s end

The results show regional variations in seasonal surface temperatures and precipitation in Turkey. And, as Dalfes pointed out, there are confusing signals.

For example, summer months in southeastern Turkey between 2011 and 2020 will see temperature escalation of 0.5 to 1.5 degrees relative to the period between 1961 and 1990, while western and northwestern Turkey show a 0.5 degree decrease in the thermometer for the same period in June, July and August.

On the other hand, the projection shows Turkey getting significantly warmer toward the end of the century, starting in 2061.

In the period from 2061 to 2070, in the winter months of December, January and February, western Turkey is estimated to be two degrees hotter, while the middle of the country, the eastern Black Sea region and part of the Southeast will see a rise of roughly 2 to 2.5 degrees and the mid-sections of the eastern part of the country will see a 3 degree increase.

At the end of the century, from 2091 to 2099, for the same winter months, alarm bells ring in all seasons, though some regions are hotter than others. At that point, the rise in temperatures is projected to reach five to six degrees in all seasons throughout the country.

Dalfes said precipitation will not likely stop altogether, but it may come in the form of rain instead of snow, bringing serious consequences for waterworks.

“It will be imperative to reserve water in winter. The planning of water resources will be of the utmost importance,” he said, adding that the severity of the consequences will depend on how proactive Turkey is and what measures it takes.

While mapping out climate change predictions for Turkey, scientists used the country’s most powerful computer, located at the National Center for High Performance Computing at İstanbul Technical University. It can process up to 6 billion basic operations in a second. Dalfes said even that supercomputer, which has more than 500 terabytes of disc capacity, is not enough to study climate change in any more depth, because it can’t handle more data if more models are studied.

“There are 15 to 20 models used in climate change studies, and we have chosen to go over a bad scenario because we wanted to see the maximum impact,” he said, adding that climate change is a dynamic area and that several studies are needed to make better projections and realistic recommendations.

They submitted the report to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in spring of this year. All results of this and ongoing studies will be made available through the EIES Web site in the near future, Dalfes said.

New funding to support Turkey’s adaptation capacity

Thanks to a grant from the Spanish government to further the United Nation’s “millennium development goals,” Turkey will have a chance to improve its capacity to understand climate change, its effects and the measures necessary to combat it. Turkey is to receive $7.5 million as part of the project, titled “Enhancing the capacity of Turkey to adapt to climate change.”

Developed by the UN country team in Turkey, the program has noted: “As part of the southern belt of Mediterranean Europe, the country is already facing an observed warming trend in temperatures and a decreasing trend in precipitation. … Economic losses from flooding and landslides as a proportion of GDP [gross domestic product] have historically been among the highest in Turkey compared to other countries in Europe and the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States].”

The document also emphasized that Turkey is vulnerable to natural disasters, such as floods, increasing water shortages and land degradation that may further exacerbate existing social and regional disparities in Turkey.

The UN document, justifying funding for Turkey’s adaptation to climate change, also indicated that increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation lead to serious water shortages, particularly in the southern and western parts of the country.

Studies will start by Oct. 1 at EIES and they are planned to have an educational dimension to help the various segments of society interpret the results.

Dalfes said the project calls for local action: “For example, we will guide the municipalities on how to use their water resources. And, when it comes to farmers, some agricultural practices will have to be changed in light of climate change and we will play a role in that.”

Considering the projection that nearly 20 percent of the surface water in some basins will be lost by 2030, he explained that there will be some small grant programs for farmers in the distressed Seyhan basin.

‘Water theft a big problem’

One example of wrongful water usage that Dalfes cited occurs in the Konya basin, where underground water reserves for irrigation have been dwindling. A government-subsidized economy based on sugar beet has been continuing in the region, even though the crop absorbs huge amounts of water.

“There is no water in Konya. There are so many illegal water wells. Plus there is what I call ‘water theft’,” Dalfes said, referring to the opening of the Blue Tunnel diverting waters from the Göksu River to irrigate Konya’s fields. But this may cause coastal erosion and dry up the delta. That’s why, Dalfes said, Turkish authorities must completely rethink agricultural policy.

He also added that the effects of carrying water from one basin to another are not fully understood and may be dangerous: “There will certainly be negative effects on the ecosystem from which the water is taken. We don’t know what effects, exactly. But this is like unscrewing the bolts while making a plane trip. This makes you nervous.”

Turkey’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions in 2003 amounted to 4.1 tons per year, two-and-a-half times lower than the average per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the 25 EU countries at the time. The country’s potential to rapidly increase its emissions is high, however, because it has a large number of development projects. The combined demands of industrialization and urbanization in Turkey increase the country’s energy needs tremendously.

Dalfes emphasized that risk management on the face of climate change involves a two-prong approach: adaptation measures, and reducing emissions in large part from burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

In that regard, Turkey’s vast renewable energy resources, such as hydroelectric, wind, geothermal and solar power, come into the picture. However, these make up only a fraction of the total primary energy supply, even though renewable sources represent the second-largest domestic energy source after coal.

Regarding renewable energy implementation in Turkey, Tanay Sıdkı Uyar, national coordinator for the Turkish Environmental NGOs Platform (TURÇEP), said the existing decision-making mechanisms limit renewable energy implementation in Turkey by backing up new fossil and nuclear power plants.

“Fossil and nuclear energy utilization is the problem, and the solution is energy efficiency and renewable energy implementation. If the size of a problem is increased, the solution becomes very expensive and mostly impossible,” he said.

Emphasizing that Turkey has the potential for a 100 percent renewable energy supply, he said Turkey is fortunate compared to other countries in Europe.

“This was true 2,000 years ago, it is true today and it will be true in the future,” he said, adding that the technologies of renewable energy are mature enough to supply the electricity and heat needed by the industrial sector and the instrument to b used for this purpose is “feed-in tariffs,” which reimburse citizens or investors for the excess energy produced by solar cells and wind turbines.

According to Uyar, who also served as the vice president of EUROSOLAR (European Association for Renewable Energy), Turkey should follow Germany, Denmark and Spain as successful examples of “Renewable Energy Integration.”

He said the investors of renewable energy are ready and if the “feed-in tariffs” system is designed accordingly, Turkey can de-carbonize its economy: “Without any other modification, the wind energy potential in Turkey is enough to supply twice the electricity being consumed today. The government is aware of the huge solar and wind energy potential in Turkey.”


Projected surface temperature changes in the course of the 21st century for Turkey

At the end of the century, Turkey will see a rise of five or six degrees in all seasons throughout the country. Temperatures are relative to the 1961-1990 period. 

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