Do you know that feeling when your biggest problem seems to be that song playing in your head and you can’t figure out which song it is exactly? Sometimes, you try to figure it out without success for months at an end. It slows your system like a never ending virus scan (old and cluttered PC users will get what I mean), so when you finally figure out the song, clouds part and a ray of light hits you and you begin to levitate. Feels like it anyway.
Something akin to that happened here in Turkey last week. Gerze is a small and very green, lovely corner of Turkey on the Black Sea coast. For more than 5 years, the locals there have been battling a 1200MW coal power plant which was being built there by Anadolu Group. The locals have ‘occupied’ the site of construction for more than 2 years now, preventing the entry of construction machines into the site of the proposed plant. Because, although the project’s Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) report had not been approved, the company was keen to start construction. Gerze locals were also battling the company in the legal arena.
Last week, the court handed the EIA report back to the company for the fourth time. This time the reason for refusal was clear: the proposed plant was within a forest area and that the proposal should be redrafted to stay outside forest areas. For Gerze this is good news as there are forest areas all around, which practically makes it impossible to build a coal plant there after the court’s decision. We still don’t know how the company will respond, but by all accounts from our friends and allies the project is all but dead. The Gerze local community won, and it was particularly exciting to all of us who signed on in solidarity with the local Gerze resistance back in 2011 and also for those of us who marched in solidarity with the anti-coal movement of Turkey back in June 2013 during GPS Phase 1 in Istanbul. It’s a Win with a big ‘W’!
But that is not all. Last week also saw a remarkable setback for one of the biggest coal projects in the world. A key funder of the $12 billion and 8GW capacity Afşin – Elbistan plant, the United Arab Emirates company TAQA ‘postponed’ its $8 billion share of financing until 2014, with rumors saying that the company might have withdrawn completely from the project. Moreover, 17 coal plants, including some running since 1995, has been suspended as a result of another court decision following a suit by 12 NGOs. The Turkish Council of State is asking for a cumulative environmental impact assessment on a regional level. This decision by the state council sets a very strong precedent for future projects to provide impartial EIAs based on scientific data. Another win.
We still have a long way to go. There are over 50 new coal plant projects in Turkey. But every once in a while, it is good to sit back, take a deep breath and whistle out a tune in celebration.