Energy and Climate Policy in Turkey’s 2015 G20 Sustainability Agenda


Turkey hosted the G20 Summit in Antalya on 15-16 November 2015. The C20 summit was held beforehand on 15-16 September in Istanbul to bring together civil society representatives a year after the first one was held in Melbourne in 2014. The C20 summit resulted in a Communique, which contained policy recommendations from civil society to the G20 leaders. One of the most frequently discussed topics during the C20 was sustainability, and many civil society organizations that work in the fields of climate change and energy had an opportunity to contribute to the policy agenda by way of the C20.

The piece will evaluate Turkey's climate and energy policies as reflected in the 2015 G20's sustainability agenda from the perspective of state policies, the G20 negotiations and the perspectives and demands of civil society. In the first section, this piece will analyze the C20's recommendations, the G20's decisions and Turkey's priorities as the host country for the 2015 G20. The G20’s decisions will then be analyzed in the context of Turkey’s current climate and energy policies.

An Analysis of the Turkey G20 Sustainability Agenda

As the host country for the 2015 G20, the office of the Prime Minister of Turkey issued a declaration that laid out the priorities of the summit as inclusiveness, implementation and investment. 1 The 2015 G20 agenda was summarized by these three issues: fortifying the global recovery, increasing its stability and supporting its sustainability. Since supporting sustainability was one of the items on the agenda, the declaration stated that the summit would focus on finance for energy and climate policies as part of the drive for sustainable development. Energy policy issues would be treated as questions of energy sustainability. The declaration also stated the need to focus on access to energy, energy infrastructure and studying ways to finance renewable energies. Moreover, the declaration highlighted the need to gradually abandon the use of fossil fuels while also rationalizing incentives for fossil fuel consumption to minimize waste, rather than completely abandon incentives for fossil fuels. The declaration also expressed the position that climate change is one of the most serious problems facing mankind, and that it would be dealt with under the topics of climate finance and building cooperation between different climate funds. The declaration clearly laid out Turkey’s policy stance on energy issues and climate change: being able to maintain incentives for fossil fuels and the need to access funds to take action on climate change.

The C20 Summit conclusions aimed to effectively convey the policies discussed at the summit to the G20 leaders. These policies were deemed necessary by civil society, and were aimed at prioritizing the sustainability of the planet instead of the narrow focus on development. For example, on the issue of sustainability, the C20 Summit Communique stated the need for technological and financial support to be directed to developing countries as part of the drive to de-carbonize the countries of the G20,2 who are in turn responsible for 76% of global Carbon emissions. The Communique also stated that we now pay a price for burning fossil fuels, and that subsidies for fossil fuels should instead by redirected towards renewable energy and public climate finance. In short, civil society used the 2015 G20’s focus on sustainability as an opportunity to communicate the need for G20 leaders to put the below issues on their agenda and to make sincere commitments to dealing with them. Civil society vies that the G20 countries should:

  • Reach a fair, long-term agreement on decreasing emissions, establish a goal for decarbonizing economies, and commit to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050.
  • Prioritize infrastructure investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  • Take a leading role in supporting reliable, safe, sustainable and clean energy access for all by the year 2030
  • Shift investment in unsustainable mega-projects to decentralized and local infrastructure projects.
  • Take immediate action to completely and equitably phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020.
  • Shift investment from unclean to clean energy, substantially increase public climate finance in order to compensate for the effects of climate change on developing countries (including crops that can adapt to climate change) by using new and innovative resources, and provide the opportunity for all countries to fairly achieve a transformation to eliminate carbon.

Compared with the policy commitments pertaining to sustainability that were laid out in the 2015 G20 Summit Concluding Declaration (under articles 22, 23, and 24)2, it is clear that many of these recommendations were not included in the discussion. The declaration reproduced open-ended concepts like more investment in clean energy and more support for renewable energy, but more definitive recommendations like transitioning to 100% renewable energy and completely ending incentives for fossil fuels were watered down to concepts like “soft transitions,” “support” and “gradual transition.” The declaration did not even address the issue of unsustainable mega-projects, despite civil society’s strong warnings on the matter. The G20’s commitments did not include the issue of a localized and autonomous development strategy. Moreover, the G20 summit did not reach an agreement on a legally binding commitment to the 1.5°C target. Such an agreement could have added momentum to the negotiations ahead of the 2015 COP21 Paris Summit. Instead, the decision on whether to propose a legally binding commitment as part of the Paris negotiations was left to the United Nationals Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). If the decision by the G7 to abandon carbon-based production had been seconded at the G20, this could have supported efforts to make the Paris agreement legally binding. Instead, as the host of the 2015 G20, Turkey stated the position in its declaration of priorities that fossil fuel subsidies should be gradually abandoned if they are not rational, and this was the position that was ultimately repeated in the G20 Concluding Declaration.

The G20 2015 summit was the first time that all parties reached a common understanding on transitioning to clean energy and committing to do so.5 Although this collective decision to commit was an important first step, this should be followed up by collective action to reach the 1.5°C target. While the 2015 G20 did produce the collective decision, the initiative for collective action was left to the COP21. In spite of this collective decision, the delay in implementation led to an ambiguous situation in which certain issues around clean energy could be turned into bargaining positions.

There was concern that the discussion on clean energy would focus only on reducing the volume of emissions rather than evaluating policies such as ending fossil emissions or looking at the ways that fossil fuel-based energy production threatens the sustainability of the planet. In a similar vein, topics like “negative emissions” and “carbon capture and storage (CCS)” were some of the most discussed at the COP22 held in the colorful city of Marrakesh in Morocco in 2016. But these two methods risk being used by major carbon producing companies to cover up their high volumes of emissions, and who are only trying to “greenwash” themselves instead of taking sincere measures to address carbon emissions. As a group of the world’s biggest polluters, the G20 didn’t define “clean energy” in 2015 and didn’t reach an agreement to take legally binding action on carbon emissions. Consequently, there are still ongoing discussions about the issues mentioned above at the 2016 COP22. Discussions about neutralizing, capturing and storing carbon ultimately lead to more delays than progress in coming up with a solution to the 1.5°C target.

For developing countries like Turkey – with SMEs making up 98% of businesses – industry and growth take precedence over environmental sustainability. Since developing countries want privileged and differentiated responsibilities in dealing with climate change, the aforementioned discussions on balancing out carbon emissions can be used as an excuse to continue polluting and to avoid effective implementation of the national determined contributions (NDC). Accordingly, Turkey revealed its priorities in hosting the 2015 G20 by making SMEs a key theme.6 

Energy Policy

A study by the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development (CESD) at Kadir Has University titled “A Study of Turkish Society’s Energy Preferences” determined that Turkey’s top energy priorities are “energy security” and “energy supply security.”7 Energy security is a key determining factor for Turkish foreign policy, while energy supply security is one of the main factors impacting domestic energy policy. 

Turkey’s current electric power generation capacity is 75 GW. 35% of this energy is hydroelectric, 29% is from natural gas, 13% is from domestically produced coal, 8% is from imported coal, 6% is from wind, 1% is geothermal and 0.5% is solar.8 As we can see, external energy dependency is a significant component of Turkey’s energy supply with 29% natural gas and 8% imported coal, although domestic production is diversified amongst hydroelectric, natural gas, coal, wind, geothermal and solar. Energy that is produced on the grid can also be purchased. On the other hand, over the course of the last 10 years, Turkey has led OECD countries in terms of rising energy demand.9  According to 2014 figures,  Turkey’s energy demand was 125 million tons of oil equivalent (TOE) and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources forecasts demand reaching 210 million toe by 2023.10 Today, approximately 55% of Turkey’s natural gas needs are met by Russia, 18.2% by Iran, 12% by Azerbaijan, 8% by Algeria and 2.8% by Nigeria.9 There are numerous initiatives to reduce Turkey’s dependency on external energy. Increasing the ratio of local coal in energy production and investments in nuclear energy are methods being used to decrease external energy dependency. Plans for 3rd generation reactors in Akkuyu and Sinop are aimed at achieving 5% nuclear electricity generation by 2023.10 But to build and operate nuclear energy reactors, Turkey requires high volumes of financing and services from abroad. Purchasing services from abroad – including during the operating phase – raises questions about nuclear capacity to reduce Turkey’s external dependencies.11

Turkey is the biggest producer of greenhouse gasses among OECD countries.12 According to a report published by IISD-GSI titled “Subsidies to Coal and Renewable Energy in Turkey,” 730 million USD was transferred to the coal sector in the form of subsidies in 2013. This amount only accounts for incentives that can be quanitifed. There are also indirectly given, immeasurable incentives for coal production. Turkey plans to use its entire coal reserves by 2023 and to build in that time 70 more coal-fired thermal power plants in addition to the 25 that are already in operation.12 Despite a rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions, Turkey plans to further incentivize coal production, in particular by increasing local coal consumption. This situation clearly contradicts the 2015 G20’s decision to support the transition to clean energy. Moreover, the decision to use all of existing coal supplies in the next few may prove controversial from the perspective of future generation’s access to Turkey’s energy resources.

Turkey is a natural transit point for regional natural gas flows between the Caucasus, Russia, the Middle East and Europe.13 Turkey consequently has the potential to become an energy hub. There are currently five projects that are transferring or are planning to transfer natural gas across Turkey. The South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP), the Baku-Tblisi-Erzurum (BTE) Natural Gas Pipeline, and the Natural Gas Interconnector Turkey-Greece (ITG) are currently in operation, in addition to the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). Additionally, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles straits are important transit points for tankers transporting oil products from Russia and the Caucasus.9 Contributing to Europe’s energy security is also one of Turkey’s energy goals. Yet incentivizing investment in fossil fuels is a controversial way to go about contributing to Europe’s energy security, since this will not solve the problem of external energy dependency.  

Hydroelectric plants and geothermal energy are the leading sources of Turkey’s renewable energy capacity. Despite their high potential, investment in solar and wind energy is, compared to the whole, very weak. The “Turkey National Action Plan for Renewable Energy) published in 2014 by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources put forward the target of increasing the share of renewable energy in Turkey’s energy mix to 30%  by increasing hydroelectric capacity to 34,000 MW, wind capacity to 20,000 MW, solar capacity to 3,000 MW and geothermal energy capacity to 600 MW.15

Despite Turkey’s large potential for solar energy production, only 3,000 MW of usage is planned, whereas Turkey’s average yearly solar heating is 1303 kWh/m2 and the average span of sunny weather is 2623 hours. With 2623 hours at a strength of 3,6 kWh/m2 and with roughly 7.2 hours in a day, this equals a total of 110 days of solar power. Turkey’s has an energy potential of 26.2 tones of oil equivalent (TOE), of which 9.8 TOE can be converted into electricity.16

Climate Change Policy

When looking at Turkey’s climate change policy, it is worth emphasizing that Turkey is the only G20 country that has not ratified the COP21’s Paris agreement. Despite having presented an intended national determined contribution (INDC) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the COP21 and signing the Paris Agreement on 22 April 2016 in New York, Turkey has still not approved the Paris agreement in parliament. Turkey stated that one of the core principles of its 2010-2023 Climate Change Strategy17 would be to make a contribution towards reducing global greenhouse gasses. Additionally, all governing bodies specified that they would harmonize policy with sustainable development goals (SDC) and develop policies for action on climate change based on these goals. Based on this strategy, it is clear that an important aspect of Turkey’s fight against climate change is the need for financing to transition to a low carbon economy and consequently access to “climate finance.” Turkey sees climate finance as a key condition for being able to develop policies to combat climate change. One of Turkey’s key reasons for not approving the Paris Agreement is its inability to access climate finance on the conditions that it wants.

Turkey presented its INDC to the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 30 September 2015. The INDC specified a 21% reduction in greenhouse gasses relative to a base (reference) scenario. According to the base scenario, the forecast for 2030 would be 1.175 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which would correspond to 929 tons of greenhouse gasses.18 Turkey’s target for decreasing carbon emissions by 21% is lower than those of countries with similar base scenarios (for example, Peru at 20%, Thailand at 20%, Mexico at 22%, Indonesia at 29%, Morocco at 32%, South Korea at 39%, etc.) In a joint report with Istanbul Policy Center and WWF Turkey titled “Low Carbon Development Pathways and Priorities for Turkey,”19 Professor Erinc Yeldan from Bilkent University and Assistant Professor Ebru Voyvoda from METU evaluate Turkey’s likely emission trajectories through 2030. According to their account, at 5% growth, Turkey will reach 1 billion tons of emissions in 2030. These figures suggest that the 1.175 billion ton figure projected in the official INDC might stem from faster than expected growth or a higher than expected energy demand. The target of reducing forecasted carbon emissions to 929 million tons would correspond to a reduction from this increase of roughly 7%. According to the aforementioned report, constant growth at a rate of 5% through 2030 and even the possibility that this high rate of growth would lead to even higher energy demand both look impossible. Turkey grew by 2.9% in 2014 and it looks like growth will fall below 3% this year as well. Additionally, the commitments made during Turkey’s G20 presidency on the topic of energy productivity were unfortunately not included in its INDC.

Turkey’s efforts to defend the position of “special conditions” ahead of the COP21 negotiations ultimately alienated during the discussion about removing the system of appendices.20 In the context of different national conditionalities in the new climate regime, principles like equality, shared yet differentiated responsibilities and relative competencies would not be able to afford immunity to countries whose development models remain dependent on fossil fuels.21 Taking lasting steps towards a low carbon economy only once achieving the desired terms for accessing climate finance would mean for Turkey to be left behind in a changing economic and political environment.  But Turkey does, in fact, have indirect access to climate finance and attracts many types of financial providers.22  Turkey missed a chance to enter the “low carbon economy” by refusing to ratify the Paris Agreement and, in turn, the new climate regime. This will turn out to be a historical mistake.22

The new climate regime will require the transformation of sectors that are major sources of carbon emissions, shifting to renewable sources in primary energy production, quickly increasing energy efficiency, harmonizing high emission industrial zones with the new era and developing new methods of transportation that will lead to less carbon emissions, like railways and combined transportation.23 With its high potential both for renewable energy as well as the transformation of its carbon market, Turkey should immediately evaluate this opportunity for transformation. A carbon tax and an emission trading system (ETS) are both possibilities for Turkey in the context of a transforming carbon market.23


In analyzing Turkey’s energy and climate policies, there is potential for transitioning to a low carbon economy and gradually abandoning the production of energy dependent on fossil fuels. It is also clear that developing a climate policy can have both regional and political advantages. Turkey would also be seen to be making a contribution to global change after having hosted the G20 and participated in other international platforms. Yet when analyzing national climate and energy policies, it is also clear that there are a number of obstacles to realizing this potential and fulfilling these objectives, and that these obstacles themselves sometimes have a negative impact on international climate and energy policies.


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