EU’s looming carbon tax nudged Turkey toward Paris climate accord, envoy says

GLASGOW — The threat of a planned EU carbon border tax helped push Turkey to ratify the Paris climate accord, the country’s climate envoy said. 

Ankara finally ratified the climate landmark 2015 accord last month, having withheld consent for years as it sought to be reclassified as a developing country to get access to certain climate funding. 

Ultimately, a Franco-German guarantee of $3.2 billion in financial support for Turkey proved decisive. But the European Commission’s plan to tax imports from countries without carbon pricing — which would hit Turkey hard — also played a role, Mehmet Emin Birpınar said in an interview. 

The EU’s so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) poses “a very big threat” to Turkey, “because 48 percent of Turkish exports go to the EU,” said Birpınar, who also serves as Turkey’s chief negotiator at the COP26 climate summit and deputy environment minister.  

“What we have decided [on the Paris Agreement], that was one of the reasons, for sure,” he said.  

Turkey is currently working on introducing a climate law, which Birpınar expects to be ready in three to four months. It will address “Green Deal issues,” he said, and will introduce a carbon price to avoid getting hit by CBAM. 

What Turkey’s national emissions trading scheme will look like is yet to be decided, Birpınar said, but he acknowledged it would need to be “similar to the European Union.” 

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development this summer warned that Turkish businesses could face additional costs of more than €750 million a year under CBAM and encouraged Ankara to ratify the Paris accord, launch an emissions trading system and set net-zero emissions targets. 

Turkey last month set 2053 — the 600th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople — as a net-zero target for carbon emissions, but has yet to submit an updated climate action plan to the United Nations as required under the Paris Agreement. 

The country’s current plan is extremely weak, pledging to reduce emissions only 21 percent below what it calls “business as usual level” by 2030. At COP26, it did not sign up to pledges on slashing methane emissions or phasing out coal.  

Birpınar dodged questions about action on coal — which supplies about a quarter of Turkey’s electricity — but said a new climate plan would be submitted soon. 

“That was not ambitious, 21 percent,” he admitted. “We will do much better than that, for sure.” 

Funding, however, remains a critical issue for Turkey. 

Turkey ratified the Paris Agreement after signing a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank, France and Germany giving it access to $3.2 billion in loans for its energy transition. Birpınar said approximately $2 billion would come from the World Bank, around $800 million from France and $200 million from Germany. The French and German governments and the World Bank have yet to confirm these figures.

Ankara is still pushing to have its status changed, however. The Turkish parliament passed a declaration stating that Turkey would ratify the Paris Agreement as a “developing country.” 

A reclassification would make the country eligible for multilateral climate finance like the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund, and Birpınar said Turkey would need more money to meet its net-zero target. 

“We have $3 billion now, we will use that and we need more until 2053,” he said. But he added that Ankara was willing to contribute to adaptation funding, meant to help vulnerable countries prepare for the effects of climate change. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, canceled his planned trip to the Glasgow summit over a security dispute.

Yet Birpınar said Turkey wanted to play a constructive role at COP26 and that his government was largely supporting the EU’s positions in negotiations at the summit. 

“We are not going to disturb the COP. We have been disturbing … Turkey has been this troublesome country,” he said. 

“Now this year, Turkey is a little bit more relaxed,” he added. “Turkey will not be a defensive animal, it will be offensive and try to be a leader in climate negotiations and addressing climate change. It wants to be a role model in the region.”

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