Three young climate activists have filed a lawsuit against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey and Ministry of Environment, Urbanisation and Climate Change, by taking legal action due to the inadequacy of Turkey's climate target under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Turkey produced 403.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) emissions in 2021. This was a year-on-year increase of 8.1 percent, and the first year that emissions accelerated and peaked in Turkey since 2017. The country's coal-fired power stations are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions by Turkey at 103 Mt in 2021. Over a kilogram of CO 2 is emitted for every KWh of electricity generated in Turkey by coal-fired power stations.
Atlas Sarrafoğlu (16), Seren Anaçoğlu (20) and Ela Naz Birdal (17), young climate activists who have been campaigning for years for Turkey to fight stronger against the climate crisis, have filed a lawsuit against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ministry of Environment, Urbanisation and Climate Change, claiming that the updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by Turkey as a climate target is insufficient, asserting that this is climate inaction rather than climate action. Underlining the lack of a transparent process in the preparation of this statement, they demanded the cancellation and renewal of Turkey's unscientific, ineffective and inadequate climate target. Young people defending their right to the future also launched a petition at change.org/climatelawsuit.
There are many similar climate lawsuits around the world. Six Portuguese young people had filed a complaint against 33 countries, including Turkey, accusing them of failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
After Turkey submitted its updated NDCs to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat, Atlas Sarrafoğlu, Seren Anaçoğlu and Ela Naz Birdal said "Unfortunately, this declaration is not a commitment to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but an increase. Turkey is a country of climate disasters and we, as young people, want our future to be secured with a stronger climate goal." They have become the pioneers of the first climate lawsuit filed against the Presidency and the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change, regarding Turkey's decisions on greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Atlas Sarrafoğlu, a climate activist since the age of 11, made the following statements about the climate lawsuits they filed:
"I came to a different world than my elders, a world caught in a series of disasters that trigger each other. It is an existential crisis. We are burning our planet with our own hands. The use of fossil fuels should have been abandoned a long time ago, but as long as governments and big corporations prefer their power and money to the future of humanity, we will not be able to prevent this crisis.
As a young climate activist, I want emissions to be reduced in line with the Paris Agreement, which Turkey signed too late. Children and young people are currently at the greatest risk, even though they did not cause the climate crisis. Therefore, I do not accept an environment where children's rights are disregarded. You are destroying the future of us, the young people you call "the future of this country". You are officially doing nothing against the climate crisis that threatens Turkey the most! For this reason, I initiate this lawsuit for Turkey to give a stronger climate target."
Seren Anaçoğlu, a European Union Climate Ambassador and a law student, said, "Turkey's NDC declaration submitted within the scope of combating the climate crisis, promises more than 30 percent increase by 2030, rather than a commitment to reduce emissions. Stating that it will be carbon neutral by 2053, Turkey still does not have a coherent and scientific roadmap on how it will realize decarbonization by 2053! No exit date from coal and fossil fuels! No effective climate action plan in the energy and mining sector! But unfortunately, there is a system in which the coal and mining lobby will continue to exist and poison us! For young people, the future holds more unemployment, pollution and vulnerability to climate disasters! There is a danger that we young people and children's right to life and access to basic rights such as food, water and air will be restricted or even eliminated! For this reason, I initiate this lawsuit for my right to a future."
Ela Naz Birdal, a young climate activist who fights for the right to the future, said: "The climate crisis is a global crisis and everyone has important duties in this struggle. All countries need to take on responsibility, so that we can reach the common goal of the 1.5-degree target". Listing her demands from Turkey to fight stronger against the climate crisis and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, she said: "Set an interim target. Announce a coal phase-out date. Make a real reduction commitment. Turkey's decarbonization policy should be determined with scientific methods and made into binding legal rules. We are filing this lawsuit to fight against the climate crisis and to guarantee our own future, and we look forward to the support of all our young friends in our petition campaign that we have started at change.org/iklimdavasi! I initiate this lawsuit for a carbon-free future!"
Their lawyer Deniz Bayram made the following statement: "The realization of the 1.5 target of the Paris Climate Agreement depends on all state parties deciding on and implementing greenhouse gas emission reductions prepared with clear, understandable and scientifically based methods to the extent of their historical responsibility for global emissions. The uncertainty on scientific methods used in the decision to increase Turkey's current greenhouse gas emissions and the lack of a date for the transition from fossil fuels such as coal, are inconsistent and contradictory with the high increase in carbon emission targeting the years 2030 and 2038, and the 2053 net zero decision. In recent years, we have witnessed the devastating effects of climate change increase in the intensity of violations of basic human rights such as access to life, health, food and water. The urgency of this legal case stems from the urgency for Turkey to present a climate plan that it can defend with scientific data and protect the human rights of future generations.
The climate lawsuits filed by children and young people all over the world show us that states should stop shifting blame and responsibility to each other, and make equitable, clear, scientific and legally clear climate plans to the extent of their responsibilities. A favorable ruling in this case may have a positive impact not only for Turkey, but also for countries with high historical emissions to make their climate commitments even more ambitious and decisive."