Are Turkish environmental groups the only ones to criticize the Beijing-Ankara economic integration? Global voices

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Illustration by Giovana Fleck based on EMBA promotional images.

China’s largest investment in Turkey – a key part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – is a coal-fired power plant located in Adana, south-central Turkey, called the Emba Hunutlu Power Plant. While the Turkish government supports the project and sees it as a complement to its regional integration efforts, one sector is categorically voicing its opposition: the environmental community, which accuses the Chinese authorities of using double talk when taking action. environmental commitments.

On September 22, 2020, speaking to the UN in a video message, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 to fight climate change. Yet at present, Beijing is funding fossil fuel projects in at least 27 countries around the world. Most of these projects are integrated in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The Emba Hunutlu power station is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Turkey, an economic and political cooperation program which Ankara joined in November 2015. In April 2019, the countries signed a special agreement BRI and the construction of the Hunutlu power plant began in September 2019..

The project represents China’s largest direct investment in Turkey. When completed in 2022, it will have a generating capacity of 1.32 GW of electricity, or about three percent of all electricity currently produced in the country. The plant will be powered by local coal from Adana as well as imported coal. When China announced its decision to build a coal-fired power plant in Adana, many environmental groups signed a petition urging all Chinese banks funding the construction to pull out. The project also fits into Turkey’s own global Silk Road project, called the Intermediate corridor initiative (MCI), thus integrating the ambitions of China and Turkey to create international hubs to stimulate world trade.

Environmental opposition to the project

When China announced its decision to build a coal-fired power plant in Adana, Turkish environmental groups were largely the only ones opposed to the project. They signed a petition letter encouraging all Chinese banks financing construction, namely China Development Bank, Bank of China Ltd. and the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. to suspend their funding because of environmental and health problems.

“In light of the community’s opposition to the project, as well as the lack of legal compliance, we respectfully request that the financiers of the Emba Hunutlu coal-fired power plant withdraw all financial support for the project. We believe that the cumulative issues of biodiversity, environment, air pollution, climate and policy alignment raise serious red flags about your institution’s involvement in this project, ”said the group in the letter.

A recent report by the World Wildlife Foundation in Turkey (WWF-Turkey) and the Sustainable Economy and Finance Research Association (SEFiA) reveals the costs of this power plant on the environment and the health of local populations. Once in service, the Hunutlu power plant “will operate on 2.8 million tonnes of major coal per year and emit over 200 million tonnes of CO2 over the life of its project,” wrote the Rainforest Action Network. , in his “Baking on Climate Chaos: 2021 Report on Fossil Fuel Financing.

Those near the construction area on Iskenderun Bay are already suffering from air pollution from other industrial facilities such as a gas-fired power station, two coal-fired power plants, and a steel plant. According to the Rainforest Action Network, some 2 million people and the region’s biodiversity will be affected by the pollution caused by the new plant. In June 2020, a report released by the Energy and Clean Air Research Center estimated that the plant would contribute to 2,000 premature deaths over its 40-year lifespan.

There are also increased cancer risks associated with the plant. In a lawsuit challenging the license agreement for the Sugözü Kömürlü thermal power plant, which became operational in 2003, volunteer for the Eastern Mediterranean Environmental Platform and lawyer İsmail Hakkı Atal said the cases of cancer were multiplied by 11 and types of cancer by 275% in the region. between 2009-2014.

Economic viability called into question

In addition to the direct impact on the environment and public health, activists are also wondering about the economic model and the viability of this giant project. The new report from WWF-Turkey and SEFiA says the Hunutlu power plant will not pay back the capital cost – at least not for the next 30 years.

Speaking to Climate Action Network Europe, report author and founding director of SEFiA, Bengisu Özenç, said:

Our net present value calculations show that in the capital cost scenario which corresponds to ultra-supercritical coal combustion technology, the Hunutlu thermal power plant is unable to pay back its capital cost over a period of 30 years, even under the assumption of a high level of electricity. prices. It is therefore necessary to question the political economy and the financial sustainability of this investment, which would have an installed capacity of 1,320 megawatts if it were made.

WWF-Turkey Director General Aslı Pasinli told Climate Action Network Europe: “In an environment where coal exit scenarios are increasingly discussed, the construction of new coal-fired power plants is a serious issue. ‘questioning. The answer to this question can be found in the financial feasibility studies of new investments in factories, which are expected to remain inactive not only because of concerns about climate change, but also because of changing global financial flows.

Ankara needs Beijing to overcome its economic crisis

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and China. The two leaders welcomed the occasion by a phone call on July 13, stressing “the great potential of trade and diplomatic relations between Turkey and China” in areas that include “energy, trade, transport and health”.

Turkey’s relations with China have changed dramatically since 2009, when then Prime Minister Erdoğan called what happened to China’s Uyghur ethnic minority a “massacre.” But the stagnation of the Turkish economy signals a change in the way the country’s leaders view China.

In an interview with Voice of America, Kemal Kirisci, senior researcher at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said the ruling Turkish government is hopeful that Chinese investment, trade and credit could help save its economy. In 2019, Turkey failed to sign the joint letter issued at the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to condemn the “mass arbitrary detentions and related violations” of Uyghurs and other minorities by China. A July 2020 investigation published by The Telegraph documented “Ankara’s acquiescence to Beijing’s extradition requests targeting Chinese Uyghur dissidents” and further highlighted their changing interests.

In addition to the coal-fired power plant, China’s investments in the country include railways, the China-built and funded Marmaray rail tunnel, a 65% stake in Turkey’s third-largest container port , a third bridge connecting the two continents of Istanbul and the largest in Turkey. The Trendyol e-commerce platform, which was acquired by Chinese company Alibaba in 2018, among other examples.

In this context of economic ties and close investments with China, environmentalists are campaigning to stop some of these projects like the power plant.

As for China, some say it is not too late to change course. Elif Gündüzyeli, Coal Policy Coordinator for Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, said: Pursue high carbon projects such as Hunutlu.


This story is part of a Civic Media Observatory investigates competing narratives of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and explores how societies and communities have different perceptions of the potential pros and cons of China-led development. To learn more about this project and its methods, Click here.


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