Dramatic scenes of villagers and environmental activists protesting the felling of thousands of trees in order to expand a coal mine have received widespread media coverage in Turkey over the past two weeks. Police used teargas and water cannon against the protesters and numerous were arrested as they attempted to stop the tree felling in Akbelen forest in Turkey’s western Muğla province.
The episode highlights the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ongoing support for coal mines and coal-fired power plants, and its disregard for the well-documented impact of coal burning on air pollution, which negatively affects the health of local people. It also ignores the significant greenhouse gas emissions generated by burning coal and the contribution this is making to the climate crisis.
Turkey has 37 coal-fired power plants licensed to run, in some cases, until the 2060s. The two plants near the Akbelen forest have been operating for decades. Both have a long history of negative environmental impacts, which has even led to cases being brought against them in the European Court of Human Rights. Both plants were found to have operated in violation of national environmental regulations, and experts have continued to raise concern that they may be operated without adequate pollutant filtration systems in the majority of the plants units. To keep the two plants operating, the government has also approved further coal mining in the area.
Turkey ratified the Paris Agreement in 2021 and announced that it would be carbon neutral by 2053. Yet, in Europe, alongside Bosnia and Herzogovina, Poland, and Serbia, Turkey has not announced when it will stop using coal. The Turkish government’s plans to enable new coal mining and to keep operating 37 coal-fired power plants – including the two for whom the Akbelen forest has been sacrificed – raises serious questions over Erdogan’s commitment to clean air and tackling the climate crisis.