Energy Information Administration


United States
Energy Information Administration

       March 2000

Turkey: Environmental Issues

Turkey's economic emergence has brought with it fears of increased environmental degradation. As Turkey's economy experienced high levels of growth in the mid-1990s, the country's boom in industrial production resulted in higher levels of pollution and greater risks to the country's environment. With domestic energy consumption on the rise, Turkey has been forced to import more oil and gas, and the resultant increase in oil tanker traffic in the Black Sea and Bosporus Straits has increased environmental threats there.

With Turkey now a formal candidate for membership in the European Union, Turkey's environmental record will come under heavy scrutiny. In 1983, Turkey promulgated the country's overarching "Environmental Law," and a national Ministry of Environment was created in 1991. Turkey is building an extensive network of hydroelectric energy sources in the southeast part of the country, and cleaner-burning natural gas is moving to replace coal in power generation.

The importance of strong environmental protection measures, as well as the fragility of Turkey's environment, was driven home recently by catastrophe that struck the Tisza and Danube rivers in southeast Europe. After a reservoir wall at a gold mine in Romania collapsed, cyanide-tainted water was dumped into the Tisza River, and the toxic spill killed thousands of fish in Hungary as it flowed downstream into the Danube. Although the spill was supposed to be diluted by the time it reached the Black Sea, and it was not expected to cause any damage there or in the Marmara Sea, Turkey took no chances, taking water samples in the Bosporus Straits to measure any effects from the toxic spill.

Marine Pollution
Although Turkey escaped the full brunt of the cyanide pollution from the Romanian mine accident, it has not been so fortunate with pollution from oil spills that have affected the shores of the Anatolian peninsula. Increased shipping traffic through the narrow Bosporus Straits has heightened fears of a major accident that could have serious environmental consequences and endanger the health of the 12 million residents of Istanbul that live on either side of the Straits.

The Straits--a 19-mile channel with 12 abrupt, angular windings--have witnessed an increase in shipping traffic since the end of the Cold War to the point that over 45,000 vessels per year (one every 12 minutes) now pass through them. This increased congestion has led to a growing number of accidents; between 1988 and 1992, there were 155 collisions in the Straits.

With the high volume of oil being shipped through the Bosporus, oil tanker accidents can release large quantities of oil into the marine environment. This danger was underscored in March 1994, when the Greek Cypriot tanker Nassia collided with another ship, killing 30 seamen and spilling 20,000 tons of oil into the Straits. The resulting oil slick turned the waters of the Bosporus into a raging inferno for five days, but because the accident occurred in the Straits a few miles north of the city, a potential urban disaster was averted.

In the aftermath of the 1994 Nassia disaster, Turkey passed regulations requiring ships carrying hazardous materials to report to the Turkish environmental protection ministry. However, Turkey's power to regulate commercial shipping through the Straits is limited by the 1936 Treaty of Montreux that delineates the Straits as an international waterway. Although subsequent international agreements have given Turkey the right to regulate the right of passage through the Straits to ensure a steady and safe flow of traffic, due to pressure from some Black Sea border countries, Turkey has not been stringently enforcing the shipping laws passed in 1994. Thus, only a small number of vessels passing through the Straits report their cargo.

As the number of ships through the Straits grows, the risk of accidents increases, and traffic will likely increase as the six countries surrounding the Black Sea develop economically. With tonnage on the rise as well, the threat of collision is not the only danger: on December 29, 1999, the Volgoneft-248, a 25-year old Russian tanker, ran aground and split in two in close proximity to the southwest shores of Istanbul. More than 800 tons of the 4,300 tons of fuel-oil on board spilled into the Marmara Sea, covering the coast of Marmara with fuel-oil and affecting about 5 square miles of the sea.

In addition, while major spills can bring about immediate environmental consequences, the presence of large oil- and gas-carrying ships in the Straits causes other problems, such as the day to day release of contaminated water as the ships ballast their holds. Pollution in the Straits contributed to a decline in fishing levels to 1/60th their former levels. In the Black Sea, meanwhile, overfishing and pollution have left the ecosystem nearly defunct. Cleanup costs are estimated as high as $15 billion--far beyond the reach of the six countries bordering the sea. Although the 1996 Black Sea Strategic Action Plan envisions the establishment of a Black Sea Environmental Fund, financed by fees and levies on activities which use the Black Sea environment, more international financial support is needed.

To reduce the strain on the marine environment caused by ship traffic, Turkey has backed alternative means to transport oil and gas from Central Asia. Turkey has championed the Caspian oil pipeline route from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, as well as the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan across Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey. Although Turkey supported the creation of a pipeline route ending at the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa for the "early oil" from the Caspian Sea, Turkey continues to support the Ceyhan terminal in the long-run to reduce the amount of oil shipped to Black Sea ports (which then must pass through the Bosporus to world markets). However, a recent Kazakh-Russian deal to ship more oil to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk guarantees that more oil will continue to flow through the Straits.

Air Pollution
Smog is a particularly bad problem in many Turkish cities, especially Istanbul. Rising energy consumption and the increase in car ownership have increased air pollution, and as Turkey continues to develop its economy, the problem likely will be exacerbated unless preventive actions are undertaken.

Recognizing these issues, the Turkish federal government and municipalities have taken several measures to reduce pollution from energy sources. In order to meet EU environmental standards, Turkey is requiring flue gas desulfurization (FGD) units on all newly commissioned coal power plants and is retrofitting FGD onto older units. In addition, the planned "Blue Stream" natural gas pipeline from Russia should provide the necessary supplies for Turkey to rely more heavily on cleaner-burning gas rather than coal.

However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has criticized Turkey's efforts to reduce air pollution, saying that current measures do not go far enough. In its annual report on member countries, the IEA stated that Turkey needs to maintain and possibly increase investments in public transport, especially in urban areas, as well as improve the implementation of existing regulations on air quality. Additionally, the report said that Turkey needs further efforts to improve the quality of oil products and additional investments in the environmental control system, as well as further promote fuel switching from high-sulfur lignite to natural gas.

Energy Consumption

Turkish energy consumption has risen dramatically over the past 20 years. From just 1.0 quadrillion Btu (quads) in 1980, Turkey's domestic energy consumption has nearly tripled, reaching a level of 2.9 quads in 1998. Although this is still low relative to similar-sized countries such as Germany (13.8 quads), France (10.0 quads), and Poland (3.5 quads), Turkey's upward trend may mean it will surpass these countries in the future.

Of Turkey's total energy consumption, fully 50% is used by the industrial sector, with residential at 27%, transportation at 16.4%, and commercial 6.7%. Oil accounts for 43.9% of this consumption, with coal at 26.7% and natural gas at 13.2% but rising. 

Although analysts have said that Turkey's continually increasing energy consumption is needed to power the country's developing economy, environmental critics believe that Turkey's economic policies have encouraged energy waste. Because the Turkish energy sector is mainly state-owned, critics charge that the government's pricing policy has encouraged the inefficient use of energy. Experts claim that about 22% of energy generated in Turkey is lost because of inefficient distribution and relay systems. In turn, they argue, this energy waste has necessitated the accelerated growth in energy demand and imports.

Carbon Emissions

Turkey's carbon emissions have risen in line with the country's energy consumption. Since 1980, Turkey's energy-related carbon emissions have jumped from 18 million metric tons annually to 47.1 million metric tons in 1998. Once again, while this is low compared to other IEA countries, the upward trend and the rate of increase are alarming.

Turkey is not a party to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the Kyoto Protocol, meaning the country has no binding requirements to cut carbon emissions by the 2008-2012 period as most other IEA countries have. However, Turkey has established a National Climate Coordination Group (NCCG) to carry out the national studies in line with those conducted by all countries of the UNFCC. The Climate Coordination Group has published several influential findings, including the "National Report on the Protection of the Atmosphere and Climate Change" and a "National Report on Energy and Technology."

Armed with the research of the NCCG and with studies underway for a National Climate Programme, Turkey is considering accession to the Kyoto Protocol. Additional pressure to meet EU standards make it increasingly likely that Turkey will accept some level of binding emission reduction requirements in the foreseeable future.

Energy and Carbon Intensity
In 1998, Turkey's level of energy intensity--energy consumption per GDP dollar--stood at 13,800 Btu/$1990, a rate very comparable to that of the United States (13,400 Btu/$1990). Turkish carbon intensity in 1998 was 0.23 metric tons of carbon/thousand $1990, also similar to the U.S. intensity of 0.21 metric tons of carbon/thousand $1990.

Despite upward trends in recent years, Turkey still has the lowest energy-related CO2 emissions per capita and energy consumption per capita among IEA countries. In 1998, Turkey's carbon emissions per capita were 0.7 metric tons (compared to the U.S. value of 5.5 metric tons). Turkey's per capita energy consumption was 45.6 million Btu in 1998, compared to 350.7 million Btu in the U.S., 177.3 million Btu in Russia, 168.6 million Btu in Germany, and 90.8 million Btu in Poland. However, since 1992 energy consumption per capita in Turkey has increased by 25.6%, while it has risen only 4.6% in the United States, declined by 24.6% in Russia, by 8.5% in Poland, and 2.8% in Germany.

With emissions and consumption on the rise, the IEA has urged Turkey to adopt more energy-efficient policies. In addition to implementing policies expanding the use of natural gas for electricity generation and in residential heating, the IEA believes that Turkey should increase insulation to raise performance of heating systems in buildings.

Market reform--especially price reform--should lead to more efficient energy use as the disincentive to energy conservation is removed. As businesses and households are forced to pay more for their energy usage, consumers will look for ways to reduce their energy use. Increased dissemination of information on energy savings measures will benefit consumers in Turkey, and undertaking energy audits will help industry become more energy efficient and reduce energy waste.

Renewable Energy
Non-fossil energy sources have a high share of energy supply in Turkey. Hydroelectric power already accounts for about 40% of electricity demand, and there is much additional potential for growth. In 1999, 108 hydroelectric power plants were in operation, with 38 more under construction. Ultimately, 339 more hydroelectric plants are projected to make use of remaining sites, giving Turkey a potential of 69,051 gigawatt-hours per year.

Turkey's rapid growth in hydroelectric production (expected to double by 2010) in the water-starved Middle East has provoked disputes with neighboring countries. Both Syria and Iraq have been at odds with Turkey's proposed construction of dams on the Euphrates (Syria) and Tigris Rivers (Iraq) that threaten to choke off water supply to their countries. The $1.6-billion Ilusu hydroelectric dam project on the Tigris River, part of the wide-ranging Southeast Anatolia Project for economic development in the region, has the financial backing of a consortium made up of the United Kingdom, the United States, Switzerland, and Germany.

The consortium backed the dam scheme to allow Turkey to generate electricity with hydro power rather than to rely on nuclear, but the project has come under fire from protesters who allege that it will mean the destruction of 52 villages and 15 towns in the heart of Kurdish-populated areas and displace 20,000 people. The plan also is controversial on environmental grounds because it would destroy a designated archaeological site, provide poor reservoir quality through raw sewage discharges into the dam, and potentially have significant downstream consequences for the water supply in both Iraq and Syria.

In addition to hydroelectric power, Turkey is encouraging the construction of wind power plants. The first facility was commissioned in December 1998, and the country has a goal of deriving 2% of its electricity from wind power. Turkey has extended its involvement in geothermal energy projects, supported by loans from the Ministry of Environment, and geothermal energy is expected to increase substantially. The country's first nuclear power plant is planned for Akkuyu on Turkey's Mediterranean coast but has raised the ire of environmentalists, who say that what is needed is not more power generation but more efficient relay and distribution systems. Also, environmentalists point to the fact that the proposed site is less than 15 miles from an active geological fault line, which stirs safety fears in light of the earthquakes of 1999. In early March 2000, the Turkish government once again delayed an announcement of the winning bid for Akkuyu, for which the tender process began in 1996.

While renewable energy sources have made great inroads in Turkey's energy supply mix, there is a need for more research and development on renewable energies to increase their efficient utilization. Although hydroelectric resources are being developed, the extensive use of wood in households has contributed greatly to urban air pollution, as well as created problems with deforestation. Additionally, Turkey needs to create a level playing field for renewables by allowing prices of conventional fuels to rise to market levels. This would help diversify and increase the use of alternative energies as sources for transport, such as natural gas-operated municipal buses and electricity-operated railway systems.

Turkey in the 21st Century
As Turkey steers itself towards meeting EU membership criteria, it should see increased energy efficiency. The growth in energy consumption should wane as state subsidies are eliminated and prices more accurately reflect costs. Yet, there will still be much room for improvement, and Turkey's vigilance in safeguarding its environment will be key to the continuance of its economic development.

To the extent that natural gas replaces more carbon-intensive fuels, the country's increased use of natural gas will further diversify the Turkish energy supply and contribute to the mitigation of urban pollution and CO2 emissions. By setting differentiated taxes to promote the use of cleaner fuels (and, in particular, to promote the use of low-sulfur heavy fuel oil), Turkey can significantly stem the rising tide of carbon emissions. Continuing to educate the public about the benefits of saving energy, as well as involving large industries in energy efficiency programs, will lead to long-term positive effects for Turkey's economy and environment.

Finally, Turkey's State Planning Organization, together with the World Bank, is coordinating a project called the "Turkish National Environmental Strategy and Action Plan" to implement activities in Turkey related to Agenda 21. By establishing basic environmental standards and identifying environmental investment priorities, Turkey can integrate sustainable policies into its overall economic development, thereby safeguarding its environment well into the future.