The notion of political participation can be understood in many different contexts, and is manifested differently in all of the countries in this world.
This ought to be understood in the sense that politics—and the activities we as constituents play a part of—aren’t the same everywhere. The Turkish democratic system, like plenty of others in the world, is completely different than ours in the United States. Intense participation in the forms of lobbying, mobilization of dissident groups, and general protesting are some of the more important and influential aspects of the U.S. political system. Ad-hoc groups turn into movements that hold political clout in both social and political spheres. We like to call some of these kinds of movements “grass-roots movements.” We have seen this general process, playing out over the past few decades, lead to the contemporary environmental movement and global awareness of environmental issues.
In the Turkish context, lobbying and the mobilization of vocal groups isn’t something that one witnesses on a regular basis. The unrest that I wrote about in my earlier article Restless Turkey was something quite unusual and special to witness here in Ankara. Participation in the political system on behalf of environmental issues has happened, sparingly, but only as a result of external pressures, not internally generated grassroots movements. Contemporary awareness of environmental issues has created a situation where developing countries are being mandated to develop within certain restrictions.
Countries like Turkey are working to develop along the same lines as the U.S. and other Western countries, especially with regard to economics, but they are doing so in an age where the environmental burden each generation’s development puts onto the next is well known, and is monitored by different groups and organizations. This situation is in no way new: Global citizens have warned governments and private enterprises about the environmentally detrimental activities they engage in for decades (maybe even centuries, though that is debatable). But recent intensification of environmental movements, organizations, and international legislation without a doubt, having an influence on developing countries like Turkey.
Thus, to seeking to understand Turkey’s environmental policies, it would be extremely helpful to explore the various groups, movements, activities, and international agreements that have influenced it. My next couple of blogs will delve into these very issues, introducing the existence of international agreements on environmental issues, and Turkey’s policies regarding these agreements.
In June of 2009, joining 180 other governments, Turkey’s parliament ratified an agreement to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Turkey, alongside the United States (we still haven’t signed it, guys), is one of the last countries on this planet to sign and ratify this international agreement on climate change.
The Turkish ratification happened on account of a few particular external forces. Turkey’s government resisted international efforts to bring them in to the Kyoto Protocol since its inception. Its recent turnaround can be attributed to Turkey’s aspiration to join the European Union: Environmental policies are a significant part of the economic and social union.
The Kyoto Protocol’s framework is seen by many critics as, for good reasons, “toothless.” This perspective is viable when looking towards countries like the U.S. and China who dismiss environmental agreements because there are no repercussions. However, in the Turkish case, the combination of the EU membership negotiation process, and its comprehensive environmental chapter—which is a must for full membership—creates a situation where environmental treaties are indeed, in so many ways, imposed on Turkey.
Turkey’s progress nonetheless speaks loudly for the direction developing countries are heading with respect to “sustainable” development. Even though this kind of progress is in response to international treaties and pressure; the fact of the matter is the environmental movement is growing and making strides in such countries. So, all of you environmentalist out there trying educate the masses about the environmental problems we face: Keep working, friends, you are making a difference—If not at home, you’re gaining ground in places like Turkey.