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date: 23 April 2017

Climate Change Communication in Turkey

Summary and Keywords

The case of Turkey provides some insight into the socio-political and communicative processes taking place at the periphery of global climate governance efforts. Turkey’s 12-year delayed entry into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change regime (in 2004) and its being one of the last signatories to the Kyoto Protocol (in 2009) has hampered climate-relevant efforts in the country in many ways. This includes institutionalization at national and local levels, the development of relevant national policies, and communication activities.

Climate change communication activities in Turkey can be divided into two major categories: the earlier advocacy activities, and the period of mass communication. The earlier activist or advocacy group communication efforts began around 2000, and have contributed significantly to mainstreaming climate change. Paralleling the government’s position towards the issue in many ways, the national-level media activities have remained nominal until 2007, when escalating local weather extremes were widely associated with climate change.

Research in climate change communication in Turkey commenced only recently. Although the studies are limited both in scope and quantity, existing evidence suggests that 2007 was crucial in setting the terms of the debate in the country. Mobilizations at both international and national levels in 2009 made that year another landmark for climate change communication and policy in Turkey. International organizations and governance agencies have also taken active roles in both communication and research activities, and in the translation of governance tools developed at the international level to the national level.

A review of the above-mentioned efforts suggests that a bottom-up direction of climate change communication efforts, and a minority-influence framework—in which minor advocacy and expert groups are supported by global policy norms and scientific knowledge in taking the issue to the national agenda—may be useful in understanding the dynamics taking place in industrializing countries such as Turkey.

Keywords: advocacy groups, mainstream press, dramatization, local weather extremes, post-politics, Turkey

The first emergence of the idea of human-made climate change in the public discourse dates back to the end of 1980s, but this is so only for some highly industrialized countries such as the United States (Ungar, 1992) and the United Kingdom (Jaspal & Nerlich, 2014). In other parts of the world, especially in some developing countries, climate change entered the public discourse and imagination only after the idea of the human-made global problem was structured in an extensive science-policy nexus, and a global governance mechanism was established. Hence, in these countries, communication of climate change has by and large involved the transfer and translation of ideas and narratives that acquired a hegemonic status in industrialized countries. Although it is typically assumed that such transfer of knowledge and meanings always involves reconstruction, little is known about the processes through which climate change knowledge is reconstructed in cultural contexts that are unlike those of its production.

Turkey is among the countries that have so far remained distant to both the knowledge-production and governance efforts surrounding climate change, and thus provides possibilities to examine how knowledge and meanings associated with climate change in other circumstances (e.g., scientific, governance, journalistic) are reconstructed in developing country contexts. This argument is substantiated in the following section, where some background on Turkey’s relation with the global climate regime, and the state of its media sector is summarized. The article then continues with (a) relevant findings from research in climate change communication, and (b) a concise history of climate change communication activities in Turkey. The findings and activities are then briefly discussed and interpreted in a conclusion that considers their relevance for climate change communication in developing country contexts.

Country Context and Media Industry

Located in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Basin, Turkey is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change (Meyer, 2015; Şen, 2013a). The observed climatic changes involve an increase in precipitation in the Northeastern coast, an increase in overall and especially summer temperatures (Şen, 2013a), and mountain glaciers retreat of about 10 meters per year (Sarıkaya, 2011). Future projections involve solar radiation and temperature increases across the country, precipitation decrease in the Southern part, wind potential increase in the Northwestern parts, and an increase in the intensity and duration of droughts and hot spells (Şen, 2013a). Regions suffering from water stress are expected to expand in Turkey, and about 45% of the population may confront water scarcity by the end of the century (Gosling et al., 2011; Meyer, 2015).

Many studies—on energy policy, international politics, and media alike—mention Turkey as a country with a critical geostrategic location—in the energy corridor between the Middle East and Europe (e.g., Demirbaş, 2003; Kaygusuz, 2009; Öztürk & Çıtak, 2010). This reputed strategic location and geopolitical role contributed to Turkey’s becoming part of the Western Bloc, a key NATO-state, and a founding member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (Müftüler-Baç, 1998). Its OECD membership became a problem for Turkey at an unexpected crossroads in 1992, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was opened to signature. The country was placed in both Annex I, among the developing countries, and in Annex II, together with other OECD countries that were to lead the way in climate change mitigation, and provide technical and financial assistance to developing countries (Turhan, Cerit Mazlum, Şahin, Şorman, & Gündoğan, 2016; Kaygusuz, 2009). Pleading its economic development goals and relatively low carbon emissions in comparison to other OECD member states, Turkey did not become a party to the UNFCCC, and during almost a decade of negotiations demanded its removal from both the Annex I and Annex II lists. At the Seventh Conference of Parties in Marrakesh in 2001, Turkey was removed from the Annex II list of the UNFCCC in recognition of its “special circumstances,” and became one of the last parties to the Convention in 2004 (Cerit Mazlum, 2009; Turhan et al., 2016).

Turkey’s delayed entry into the global climate change regime can also be connected to national political circumstances, especially the violent ethnic conflict over the rights of the Kurdish minority, and the associated political and economic instability that marked the 1990s. Following the 1980 military coup, concerns about national security and prosperity led the country into a period of comprehensive structural transformation, prioritizing foreign investment, rapid industrialization and urbanization, and massive energy projects (Ignatow, 2005). While this period was important to the country’s integration with the globalizing economy, a “systematic and intensive depoliticization process” (Christensen, 2010, p. 181) accompanied the market liberalization and privatization policies. The transformation was far from smooth; indeed, “in less than nine years, six coalition governments with varying compositions and five different prime ministers ruled the country. This clearly indicated the absence of a hegemonic political center” (Kaya & Çakmur, 2010, p. 530). For the barely functioning bureaucracy and the largely delegitimized political system, the main preoccupation was to terminate terrorism, create an impetus for growth, and keep in check the burgeoning inflation. Compared to these wearing tasks, environmental issues were hardly matters of concern.

A consequence of the post-coup era, in the media sector, was corporate monopolization (Finkel, 2000). By the year 2000, two main media groups controlled almost 70% of the market, and the first of these became the third largest conglomerate in Turkey (Kaya & Çakmur, 2010). Fierce competition for ratings and government bids, combined with the climate of deregulation, precipitated adverse effects such as the tabloidization of the press (Bek, 2004), prevalence of a banal nationalism (Köse & Yılmaz, 2012), and a general tendency toward sensational news journalism (Christensen, 2010). This said, that Turkish journalists’ role perceptions are characterized not by market orientation but by a strong interventionist motivation (Hanitzsch et al., 2011) should also be acknowledged1.

After the decade of political and economic instability and ethnic conflict—the 1990s—the Justice and Development Party (AKP) established the soughtafter hegemonic political center by joining Islamic conservatism with the neo-liberal agenda of intense privatization. The mainstream media eagerly supported and legitimized the party as an antidote to both radical Islamism and the shrinking political center (Kaya & Çakmur, 2010). Proceeding with unprecedented media backing towards the European Union accession targets, and simultaneously acquiring more control over the media, the party had a landslide victory in 2007 elections. This was a turning point for the media industry, taken “under siege” by five intensifying government pressures: conglomerate pressure, judicial suppression, online banishment, surveillance defamation, and accreditation discrimination (Akser & Baybars-Hawks, 2012; Yılmaz, 2016). The government’s grip on the media sector, accompanying a growing societal polarization between religious-conservative and secular-progressive political actors (Somer, 2010), strengthened the already high degrees of political parallelism characterizing the Turkish media (Kaya & Çakmur, 2010) and interventionist motivations among journalists (Hanitzsch et al., 2011). These factors have arguably contributed to the lowest recorded levels of institutional trust by Turkish journalists compared to countries with similar political and economic performance (Hanitzsch & Berganza, 2012).

The AKP government has also sustained its hegemony in the political domain by taking some positive steps that had not been taken by previous governments: With regard to climate policy, this notably involved the ratification of the Framework Convention, preparation of requested greenhouse gases (GHG) inventories and national communications for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2009, and the constitution of a Climate Change Department within the reformed Ministry of Environment and Urbanization in 2010. However, the government is also noted as gearing down the country’s rather symbolic responses to climate change (Baykan, 2013). In sum, the Turkish government’s engagement with the issue—like the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2009, when no practical action could be taken under its premises—has mostly been oriented to international diplomacy and recognition rather than bringing about effective domestic responses.

To summarize, Turkey has a news agenda dominated by national and regional political conflicts (Şahin & Uzelgun, 2016), and a foreign policy on environmental and climate issues thoroughly conditioned by national interests (Cerit Mazlum, 2009). It took a long time for environmental issues in general, and climate change in particular, to enter media reports and public discussions (Baykan, 2009; Öztürk & Çıtak, 2010; Şahin, 2015). Among the “dominant issue cultures,” (Ungar, 2014) which are mainly dreadful problems such as ethnic-religious hostilities and economic crises, climate change has long failed to capture significant attention and attain some news value in the Turkish political context. Therefore, unlike those at the forefront of climate change research and communication, the country provides a case in which the public communication of and concern over the issue can be looked at from its back end.

An Overview of Research in Climate Change Communication

Studies on public communication and reception of climate change in Turkey are limited both in scope and quantity. It is still possible to describe how the mainstream media have portrayed the issue in terms of critical moments and with a broad temporal perspective.

Available evidence from analyses of media coverage trends (Baykan, 2009; Şen, 2013b; Uzelgun & Castro, 2015) suggests that the year 2007 was crucial in setting the terms of the debate in the country. In five mainstream daily newspapers covered by these studies, the number of articles in which the terms “climate change” and “global warming” were mentioned demonstrate a steep increase in 2007, from comparatively insignificant levels in the preceding years. Among the factors that may have contributed to this “alarmed discovery” (McComas & Shanahan, 1999), the articles recognize both international news (the release of the 4th assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], the movie Inconvenient Truth, political repercussions of the 2006 Stern Report, increased global attention to the Arctic ice extent), and national and regional circumstances (above all, the extreme drought conditions extending from 2006 to 2008, the relative settlement of economic and political crises that opened space for government institutions to publicly address the problem, and the release of the first National Communication Report to UNFCCC in 2007).

A second landmark for press reporting of climate change in Turkey was the year 2009, when the country ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Until that year, mainstream press reporting was organized extensively around the term “global warming,” a more emotive and alarming term than “climate change” (Whitmarsh, 2009). The number of articles that used “climate change” had for the first time exceeded those that used the former term in 2009 (Şen, 2013b; Uzelgun & Castro, 2015). Şen (2013b) associates this shift in the preference of terms with “global warming” being more readily evoked by drought conditions (in 2007 and 2008), and the media’s inability to maintain this evocation in 2009’s wet conditions that saw destructive floods throughout the country, instead using “climate change” to express the new link. For Uzelgun and Castro (2015), the shift marks the end of the “first coverage cycle,” an initial reporting period characterized by an alarming reporting tone and dramatization of climate risks, through which the issue was established in the public sphere, but by overshadowing its domestic political and policy aspects.

According to Uzelgun and Castro’s (2015) content analysis of representative news articles from the mainstream press, in this initial period (1997–2009), global warming was first depicted as an issue of international politics and diplomacy (e.g., the Group of Eight, the United Nations), and the risks were distant both geographically (e.g., at the polar regions) and temporally (in the future, see also Uzelgun & Castro, 2014). In 2006–2007, the problem entered the country’s borders, became suddenly “here and now,” and simultaneously “transformed from a political into a scientific-environmental issue” in association with the extreme droughts (Uzelgun & Castro, 2015, p. 747). Both in the succeeding years (2008–2009), and overall in this initial reporting period, the two main oppositions through which “global warming” was presented to Turkish readers were political-scientific and global-local (ibid.). The two oppositions are connected, and the divide between the political but distant (global problem), and the physical, objectified, and alarming (local impacts) bears similarities to the media’s reconstruction of climate change in other countries such as India (Billett, 2010), Argentina (Mercado, 2012), and Portugal (Carvalho & Pereira, 2008). This suggests that the representation of climate change in developing country contexts, and more specifically the mass media’s dramatization of climate risks in Turkey, can be viewed in the light of a divide between the distant (global) priorities and present local exigencies (see also Harris, 2011).

Reproduction of the scientific knowledge on climate change is rather conspicuously related to the divide between the distant (outside the national borders) and the present (local, national): that climate knowledge and models are produced mainly in highly industrialized countries has an important bearing upon how the issue and the pertaining expert discourse are reconstructed in developing country contexts. In the case of mainstream Turkish press reporting (2003–2009), the presentation of (a) climate change as an uncontested fact, (b) science as an authoritative source of knowledge and as exempt from human input, and (c) scientists with generic category entitlements (e.g., experts, scientists) can be understood in this regard (Uzelgun & Castro, 2014). Furthermore, the constant steering of climate reporting towards the future, deletion of human agency, and dramatization of climate risks (Uzelgun & Castro, 2014) cannot be accounted for by the tabloidization of Turkish press or by the interventionist motivations of Turkish journalists alone, but they should also be considered in the light of the distance between the production and re-presentation contexts of climate change knowledge. Indeed, the emphasis on the dramatic consequences and depoliticization of climate change knowledge has a rhetorical function, namely of attracting attention and establishing in Turkey a “ready-made” representation that has earned a hegemonic status in other contexts (Uzelgun & Castro, 2015, p. 749).

A recent study (Şahin & Uzelgun, 2016) interviewing journalists holding editorial positions in the most prominent news media (TV channels, newspapers, and news portals) supports this point. Seeking to illuminate the editorial mechanisms and journalistic practices in covering climate change, and their relation to the national agenda, the study draws attention to the “hopeless case of climate change” in the journalists’ discourse through three basic findings: First, climate change news is described as obtained from abroad, from international news agencies and foreign news media, and the primary reason given by the journalists regards the lack of quality news and expertise on climate issues in the country. Second, the interviewed journalists admit their own indifference to this “abstract” issue (in some cases because of the surmised indifference of readers and viewers), or they criticize the disinterest of their own organizations in bringing the issue to the agenda. Third, in nearly all interviews, a strong emphasis on the overloaded political agenda and increasing political polarization in the country appear at the foundation of these arguments, indicating the overshadowing effect of “dominant issue cultures” (Ungar, 2014) over climate change.

These findings make better sense when considered together with an apparently contradictory finding that Turkish journalists emphasize the importance of both “objectivity and factualness” and “analysis and intervention” when speaking about their institutional roles (Hanitzsch et al., 2011). Our interpretation is that the former aligns with distant and “abstract” issues such as climate change, and the latter with the preoccupying local political controversies. In other words, Turkish journalists do not seem to assume the otherwise dominant analytical and interventionist role for themselves when it comes to climate change (Şahin & Uzelgun, 2016). This overshadowing of the abstract and intangible by concrete local challenges is observed also within the broader environmental narratives (Harris, 2011). Yet, in some interviews, in which climate change was linked with the economic agenda, journalists were also mentioned using auto-censorship to avoid risking conflicts with the employer’s other enterprises (Şahin & Uzelgun, 2016). In sum, (local) climate change news is depicted as a hopeless case, failing both due to the lack of news value and due to the stakes involved when it acquires some news value. The outcome is the framing of climate change within the top governmental levels and foreign affairs, and reporting it in international news sections (see also Uzelgun & Castro, 2015).

Beyond the studies reviewed above, social scientific research on climate change in Turkey is thoroughly characterized by a focus on international relations and the economics of policymaking (e.g., Cerit Mazlum, 2009; Demirbaş, 2003; Erdoğdu, 2010; Kaygusuz, 2009; Turhan et al., 2016; Turhan, Zografos, & Kallis, 2015; Turhan & Yoon, 2010). Arguably, this is connected to the interests of scholars active in the field in Turkey, and how they recognize the problem and its practical solutions.

There is also a huge gap in our understanding when it comes to the public reception and societal uptake of climate change in Turkey. A recent exception is a representative study that looks into the public perception of responsibility in the struggle against climate change (EDAM, 2015). The study reports little awareness and interest in the issue, with a significant portion of the respondents (28%) having no opinion and/or no answer. It also shows that a major part of the Turkish public (35%) gives only conditional support to greenhouse gas emission reductions, that is, assuming responsibility only if other countries do. Another significant group (21%) disapproves of any action on climate change, adhering to the idea that “climate change is not Turkey’s problem.” Finally, the unconditional backing of measures against climate change receives around 17% support, mostly from left-leaning voters. More broadly, studies focusing on public environmental attitudes either report climate change among the least prioritized issues (Çarkoğlu & Kalaycıoğlu, 2010), or provide no mention of the problem (Özden, 2008). All this points to a lack of interest in climate change on the side of the Turkish public, and in communication of climate change on the side of the scholars in Turkey: that climate change is constructed as a distant problem for Turkey, only episodically connected to local exigencies (namely in extreme drought conditions), may be related to both forms of this lack of interest.

There are reasons to think that this situation may be changing, at least for the scholarly interest in climate issues: A conference organized jointly by Sabanci University’s Istanbul Policy Center (IPC) and Marmara University’s Center for International Relations (MURCIR) in May 2015 in Istanbul has witnessed the first formation of an epistemic community gathered around the social and political aspects of climate change. Although climate change communication was hardly one of the main issues addressed at the conference entitled Beyond Special Circumstances—a title highlighting its orientation to the socio-political aspects of the national climate policy—its focus on governance issues involved questions of public reception and engagement. The conference was funded by the French Development Agency, and it brought together early career researchers working in Turkey and abroad, in diverse fields such as political science, environmental science, international relations, management, and policymaking. While few of the contributors held positions in pertinent government agencies, others had obtained (or were in the process of obtaining) degrees from academic institutions abroad. Notably, many young researchers brought together by the conference were already in contact and collaboration with each other for about a decade as campaigners and members of advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This suggests the importance of these groups and movements (see Appendix A) in raising interest in and building capacity about climate change, besides their being the forerunners of climate change communication in many contexts (Doyle, 2009). In the next section, the efforts of these advocacy groups and NGOs in carrying the climate issue to the national agenda are briefly summarized.

A Social History of Climate Change Communication Activities in Turkey

A precursor to climate change communication activities was the translation of J. Gribbin’s 1979 book Climate and Mankind (London: Earthscan) by the Environment Foundation of Turkey (Türkiye Çevre Vakfı) in 1985. However, the Foundation’s interest in the issue discontinued afterwards, and the impact of this publication remained very low; climate change did not gain salience even in specialist circles until the early 2000s.

A second pioneer was Open Radio (Açık Radyo), an Istanbul-based community radio station that started playing a crucial role in producing climate change news and awareness starting in 1998. Initially covering the mega wildfires in Indonesian rainforests during the strongest El Nino events up to that time, and connecting them to climate change, the radio continued to bring forward the issue through the voices of experts—notably meteorologist Mikdat Kadıoğlu2—making climate one of the leading topics of the station from that time onwards. Several climate-specific radio hours started in 1999 and have continued to the present. Although its outreach is limited in comparison to the national media, the radio and its director, Ömer Madra, have served as a resource for other media organizations, fostering diverse forms of reporting (e.g., from COP meetings, global action days) and communication, including several publications and campaigns (Şahin, 2014).

One of the first social actors to take the climate issue to the public sphere was the green political movement in Istanbul: a special (3rd) issue of the Üç Ekoloji (Three Ecologies) journal on climate change (2004) included critical debates concerning the market-based, cap-and-trade approaches, and the Kyoto Protocol. Strikingly, the movement also campaigned for Turkey’s ratification of the Protocol (see below). The Greens and the local Social Forum movement became increasingly vocal in climate change discourse in connection with the global mobilizations following the Kyoto Protocol’s entry into force in 2005. Adopting an activist stance and the name Global Action Group, they organized the first climate demonstration in Istanbul on December 3, 2005 (Global Climate Action Day), and sponsored numerous events and panel discussions in collaboration with Open Radio, political parties, and many other initiatives3. Perhaps the activity with the highest impact thus far was a popular petition campaign that raised more than 170,000 signatures in 2007 to call the government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Accompanying several public demonstrations, the “Sign the Kyoto” campaign echoed in the media, too, and helped the propagation and politicization of the issue in Turkey (Şahin, 2014).

Such popular activist campaigns continued after 2009 with global action days organized by the movement, making Turkey one of the nodes of these symbolic events and occasional mass mobilizations. After establishing one of its global offices in Istanbul, organized a large youth event called the “Global Power Shift” campaign in Istanbul in 2013. Turkey’s continued extensive use of coal-powered energy drew further attention from other international climate-related institutions, such as the European Climate Foundation (ECF), Climate Action Network-Europe (CAN), and Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). A recent event organized jointly by and local environmental movements targeted Turkey’s coal expansion in Aliağa and took place as a part of the “Break Free Campaign” that occurred simultaneously in 13 countries. The involvement of these transnational organizations facilitated the local climate-related campaigns and other outreach activities, supporting the impetus of a bottom-up direction to climate change communication.

Remarkable in this regard is the emergence of climate justice discourse after 2009, in relationship with, among others, the local resistance against the construction of coal-fired power plants in a small Black Sea town, Gerze. Local Green Gerze Platform and an Ankara-based NGO, Ecology Collective (Ekoloji Kolektifi), organized a “Climate Justice Conference” at the site, strongly highlighting this notion, which had hardly been part of the climate change discourse until that time, or had been employed by the major stakeholders in the country in dissimilar ways (Turhan & Yoon, 2010). It is no surprise that E. Turhan, a political scientist with an interest in climate justice issues, is also an active member of the NGO, taking part in the launching of the climate justice portal in the aftermath of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 21, held in Paris in 2015.

The bottom-up direction of climate change communication was certainly strengthened by the use of the World Wide Web by interest and advocacy groups. While online forums have the capacity to confine people and ideas in like-minded groups, they are also advantageous for experts and advocacy groups in raising alternative ideas and critical opinions (Schäfer, 2012). A notable example is journalist Özgür Gürbüz, whose weblog, social media account, and e-mail distribution list initiative, entitled “global warming communication,” have attracted many followers and contributors.4

Although print media with a specific focus on climate change and environmental issues is very limited, a notable exception is EkoIQ, a green living and business magazine with popular content. Climate change has been one of the central topics of the magazine since 2010, especially with regard to eco-innovation and policy aspects.

Two international organizations need to be mentioned with regard to their influence in awareness-raising activities about climate change in Turkey, although their original roles were primarily directed to the translation of governance tools developed at the international level to the national level: the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Regional Environmental Center (REC-Turkey) launched their capacity building programs for public institutions as well as civil society in 2005. They contributed significantly to the organization of the 2005 “Ankara Climate Change Conference” hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Both institutions arguably outstripped their roles in international coordination and national capacity building in order to help introduce climate change into the national agenda. This namely involved translation of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol into Turkish (UNFCCC, 2005) by REC-Turkey (the UNFCCC focal point for education and awareness in the country), producing a series of other climate-specific publications, organizing civil society forums, as well as public-private partnership initiatives.

International non-governmental organizations, particularly Greenpeace, and the WWF, have also contributed significantly to the propagation of climate change discourse in Turkey. Greenpeace Mediterranean has been particularly active in linking the climate problem to fossil fuel emissions, e.g., with its 2005 direct action against the Çan Coal-fired Power Plant, and by actively seeking media outreach with campaigns such as Noah’s Ark—a replica of which is built on Mount Ararat. These NGOs were also among those that formed the “climate network” (İklim Ağı) of Turkey with the TEMA Foundation in 2012, and announced the country’s informal annual climate performance records with a critical outlook (see Şahin, 2014 for a list of participating organizations).

Another coalition of a large group of NGOs, which also includes grassroots movements, is the For Climate (İklim İçin) Platform. The Platform organized the “Climate Forum” in November 2015, prior to the Paris COP 21 Climate Conference, and as an alternative summit during the G20 summit held in Turkey. The significance of this two-day event, attracting 2,000 registered participants to Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University, was that it got an unprecedented full-day live coverage by the CNN-Turk news channel, as well as significant attention from other mainstream TV channels and newspapers. This indicates that the initiatives or coalitions undertaken by numerous NGOs and by minor interest and advocacy groups to attain more influence over the media and public discourse do indeed have some impact, especially when these minorities act strategically in connection to international events and national circumstances.

Challenges for the Future

Unlike the countries at the forefront of climate change research, communication, and action, Turkey provides a case in which these activities only surfaced around the year 2007, and mostly in relation to local weather extremes. At the same time, this shift in attention (e.g., in the mainstream media) following the Kyoto Protocol’s entry in force, in 2005, the year when the issue became an established concern for international diplomacy, is a trend observed in many developing countries (see Schmidt, Ivanova, & Schäfer, 2012). Hence, the research contextualized in this article may be generalized, to a certain extent, to those countries in which climate change communication and research follows the developments in these fields in the industrialized countries.

Turkey’s 12-year delayed entry into the UNFCCC regime (in 2004) and its position as one of the last signatorıes to the Kyoto Protocol (in 2009) had significant consequences for the ways the issue was taken to the public sphere. First, governmental institutions have lagged behind, namely in supporting research, institutionalizing activities to raise awareness, and making climate change a public concern. Second and more importantly, these gaps were filled by NGOs, local initiatives, and advocacy groups, as well as by international organizations, characterizing climate change communication activities in the country with a bottom-up direction.

The convening of a public around climate issues in Turkey, as described above, indicates two central questions that may be part of the challenges of the near future for communicating climate change in developing countries. The first is the question of how to compete with dominant issue cultures and commanding concerns, such as ethnic conflict, migration, corruption, and poverty. In a recent article that compares the public repercussions of weather extremes in 1988 and 2012 in the United States, interpreting why the extreme events in 2012 did not bring about a social scare similar to the “greenhouse summer” of 1988, Ungar (2014) draws attention to the predominance of economic concerns in 2012 and their overshadowing impact on climate change reporting and discussions. This is not surprising, given the incompatibility of climate change reporting with conventional news values such as tangibility, novelty, and recency (Carvalho & Burgess, 2005). As an intangible problem for many societies around world, climate change may be preordained to remain a “victim issue” (Geiß, 2011) among the many “killer issues” mentioned above, especially in contexts where the mainstream media reconstructs the problem at a distance and represents the solutions and responsibilities as outside the national borders. This does not mean to put the blame on journalists; political parallelism (Kaya & Çakmur, 2010) and lack of power distance (Hanitzsch, 2007) are institutional problems, within which journalists may find it too difficult to territorialize and put on the agenda new political conflicts (Şahin & Uzelgun, 2016).

The second question concerns the empowerment of the NGOs, citizen interest and advocacy groups, and epistemic and reporting communities that endeavor both to address the commanding concerns of a society and to raise climate change up on the agenda: how can these minority groups be empowered and supported at a global scale when they are targeted, in their preoccupying national contexts, as being collaborators with foreign powers, traitors against economic development and prosperity, and worse yet, ludicrous urbanites who care for the non-humans more than the martyrs? In this regard, it is necessary to recognize that the stock of scientific knowledge and consensus among experts may provide some backing only to the efforts to establish the issue as an important concern—but a sporadic one at that; however, engagement does not follow automatically.

The problem here may be more intricate than matters of political polarization, the primacy of national interests, or public distrust of science: Concerning the mass media representation of climate change, findings from Turkey’s national context (Şahin & Uzelgun, 2016; Uzelgun & Castro, 2015) can be interpreted to suggest that the framing of the issue as a matter of international politics and diplomacy may be a coping strategy used by the news media. The dramatization and depoliticization of the issue—that is, confining climate change debate to a post-political framework of perturbed nature and coming catastrophe (Uzelgun & Castro, 2014)—can also be interpreted in the same light. Although these tendencies are certainly not favorable in terms of their social, psychological, and political consequences (Foust & Murphy, 2009; Pepermans & Maeseele, 2016; Swyngedouw, 2010), they may provide some—albeit superficial and temporary—ways forward in developing countries like Turkey with respect to the public salience of the issue, and may eventually help transform climate change mitigation and adaptation into overriding concerns.

The scholarly community has a crucial role in transforming the relations described above. Future studies on climate change communication in Turkey should consider the newer trends in media representation of the problem (e.g., the public interest gathered around the Paris Summit in 2015), addressing wider forms of media (e.g., TV shows, op-eds, NGO campaign communications, social media, and online readers’ comments). There is also a need for theoretically guided research looking into media use, public understanding, and audience perceptions. Last but not least, a better understanding of how the issue is represented across social groups and ideological divisions (i.e., beyond the mainstream media) is necessary for the government and advocacy groups to construct politically relevant messages for Turkey’s polarized public sphere.


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Appendix A: A Timeline of Climate Communication Activities in Turkey*

  • 1985 Environment Foundation of Turkey published John Gribbin’s book Climate and Mankind (Türkiye Çevre Sorunları Vakfı Yayınları) in Turkish.

  • 1998 Open Radio started making climate change the focus of news and programs.

  • 2001 Mikdat Kadıoğlu published the first original book in Turkish on climate change, Global Climate Change and Turkey: The End of the Weather as You Know It.

  • 2004, May Turkey became party to the UNFCCC.

  • 2004 The Pentagon Report on climate prospects and the Hollywood movie The Day After Tomorrow incited popular debate on climate change.

  • 2004, October The Üç Ekoloji journal published its special issue on climate change.

  • 2005, September Ankara Climate Change Conference was jointly organized by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Regional Environmental Center (REC)Turkey.

  • 2005, September British climate activist and author Jonathan Neale gave public speeches on climate change and global activism in Istanbul and Izmir in collaboration with the Istanbul Social Forum.

  • 2005, August Greenpeace Mediterranean organized the first direct action on climate change at the Çan coal-fired power plant in Çanakkale.

  • 2005, October Turkish Greens, Üç Ekoloji journal, and Heinrich Böll Foundation organized the Climate Change and Global Justice Conference with keynote speaker Wolfgang Sachs.

  • 2005, December Global Action Group organized the first Global Climate Action Day demonstration in İstanbul during the COP 11 Montreal Conference.

  • 2006, February Turkish Greens launched a climate campaign as a part of the European-wide campaign, Stop Climate Change, Play Your Part, organized by the European Greens.

  • 2006, April Turkey submitted its first Greenhouse Gas Inventory to the UNFCCC.

  • 2006, August Regional Environmental Center (REC Turkey) published the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol in Turkish.

  • 2006–2007 Severe droughts incited public concern and media coverage on the impacts of climate change.

  • 2007, February A parliamentary hearing committee on climate change was established.

  • 2007, February The movie An Inconvenient Truth was released in Turkey.

  • 2007, February Turkish Greens launched the Turkey, Sign the Kyoto Campaign.

  • 2007, April Global Action Group, Turkish Greens, and Greenpeace organized the Another Energy Is Possible rally in Istanbul.

  • 2007, May Greenpeace installed a replica of Noah’s Ark on the Mount Ararat.

  • 2007, Turkey submitted its first Climate Change Communication to UNFCCC.

  • 2007 Ömer Madra and Ümit Şahin published a popular book entitled Global Warming and Climate Crisis: Why We Cannot Wait.

  • 2008 Regional Environmental Center (REC Türkiye) and Turkish Association of Industrialists and Businessmen (TUSIAD) launched the Climate Platform.

  • 2008, March World Wildlife Federation (WWF) Turkey organized the first Earth Hour action in Turkey.

  • 2008, May Economy Journalists Association organized the first Global Warming Congress as journalists being its main target group.

  • 2009, February Turkey became party to the Kyoto Protocol.

  • 2009, June Water Foundation organized the first Turkish Climate Change Congress in Istanbul.

  • 2009 TEMA and TURMEPA organized Don’t Let Our Future Melt travelling climate education campaign.

  • 2009, October The movie Age of Stupid was released in Turkey.

  • 2009, November Greenpeace Mediterranean published its Energy (R)evolution report for Turkey.

  • 2009, December Chapter 27 of EU-Turkey Accession Negotiations on environmental policies including climate change opened.

  • 2009, December A large group of observer NGOs participated in COP 15 in Copenhagen, releasing a declaration entitled Tuvalu Is Here, Where Is Turkey?

  • 2010, November Ecology Collective organized the Climate Justice Conference in Gerze, Sinop.

  • 2011, June Turkey published its Climate Change Action Plan.

  • 2011, December Ankara Group published daily update Durban Post on the negotiations and Turkey’s position during COP 17.

  • 2011, December Turkey received its first Fossil of the Day Award from Climate Action Network in COP 17.

  • 2012, September 12 major national environmental NGOs founded the Climate Network.

  • 2013, March Open Radio and Sabanci University’s IPC hosted the release of the Istanbul Manifesto against the Climate Change Threat.

  • 2013, June Turkish representation of European Climate Foundation was established in Istanbul.

  • 2013, June Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project held the international Climate Leadership Forum in Istanbul.

  • 2013, June Global Power Shift Campaign of the movement assembled its World Summit in Istanbul Technical University.

  • 2013, September Climate Network organized a live broadcast of the release of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report.

  • 2015, February I Am In for Climate manifesto of For Climate Campaign released.

  • 2015, April Marmara University’s MURCIR, Sabancı University’s IPC, and French Development Agency organized the Young Scholars Workshop entitled Beyond Special Circumstances together with the Conference How to Reconcile Climate and Development.

  • 2015, August International Islamic Climate Change Symposium released the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change in Istanbul Bilgi University.

  • 2015, September IPCC organized a launching event for its Fifth Assessment Report in Istanbul Boğaziçi University.

  • 2015, November For Climate Campaign organized the Climate Forum in Istanbul Boğaziçi University during the G20 summit in Turkey.

  • 2015, December Observer NGOs from Turkey issued a regular Climate Post in Turkish from the negotiations at COP 21 Paris.

  • 2015, December A group of scientists released Against Coal in Turkey’s Energy Future declaration in COP 21 Paris.

  • 2015, December Ecology Collective launched a climate justice portal in Turkish.

  • 2015–2016 Istanbul International Energy and Climate Center (IICEC), Turkish Association of Industrialists and Businessmen (TUSIAD), TEMA, WWF Turkey, Greenpeace Mediterranean, and Istanbul Policy Center organized several Post-Paris conferences and public meetings.

  • 2016, May Break Free From Fossil Fuels campaign organized an anti-coal action in Aliağa, Izmir.


(1.) In a comparative study of journalistic cultures, Hanitzsch and colleagues (2011) note a strong emphasis on analysis and intervention by Turkish—as well as Israeli and Bulgarian—journalists, together with an emphasis on the institutional norms of objectivity and factualness.

(2.) Dr. Kadıoğlu is also the author of the first book on climate change (2001) published originally in Turkish.

(3.) These initiatives included local collectives and nature protection campaigns, as well as a 37-minute amateur video documentary on climate and energy politics entitled Cemre, produced in 2004 by the first author of this article. The video documentary was used by the campaigning groups to instigate debate on the politics of climate change in various cities.

(4.) Gürbüz, a prominent environmental journalist in Turkey, also served as energy campaigner in Greenpeace Mediterranean.

(*) This is not a comprehensive list of all climate communication efforts in the country.