BEYOND GEZI: New Habitats and Biodiversity Bill is pushed through the Turkish Parliament

Update: late on 4 June, this law has been put on hold. It is NOT withdrawn. It is NOT sent for re-drafting – just put on hold due to pressure from the public. The threat continues. We will be monitoring.

Petition to stop / revise the Habitat Bill in Turkey : http://chn.ge/13GHHzY

Note from the translator who happens to work in environmental policy in the UK:

The draft Habitat and Biodiversity Protection Bill that will be voted on in the Turkish Parliament tomorrow and Thursday is based on the European Union Habitats and Wild Birds Directive – but it contains two key departures from this legislation:

  1. The Turkish Bill and the EU Directive both use the  ‘overriding public interest’ criterion to decide which development projects to allow and which areas to protect.

Public health and human wellbeing (beyond financial gain) are included in the definition ‘overriding public interest’. While the legal definition is vague, in practice this definition is implemented through a long established system of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), stakeholder engagement and public consultation that contribute to the individual decisions made under the Directive.

Definition of ‘overriding public interest’ is vague in the Turkish bill and there is no system of EIA and consultation in the country. It is typical for EIAs to be conducted long after a development project starts. The Turkish Government who did not conduct these basics tasks for a small park in the centre of Istanbul (Taksim Gezi) does not leave any hope for doing so for the National Parks of the country.

  1. In the EU, ‘overriding public interest’ is even more strictly interpreted for the Natura 2000 network and National Parks protected by the national laws of the Member States. It requires that in the case of development of protected land, in addition to ‘overriding public interest’ that there are  ‘No Alternatives’, i.e. there is nowhere else the development necessary for overriding public interest can take place.

The draft bill in the Turkish Parliament, on the other hand, abolishes the National Parks law. This leaves all protected areas that can be developed without having to prove ‘no alternatives’.

The timing of the draft Bill cannot be coincidence in light of what’s been happening in the country in the last week or so. Given the speed with which other highly controversial legislation has been passed through the Turkish Parliament, to say that ‘it does not bode well for the nature and biodiversity in Turkey’ is a vast understatement.

Petition to withdraw the draft bill can be signed here: http://www.change.org/petitions/rt-erdogan-withdraw-the-draft-nature-and-biodiversity-conservation-law-from-the-turkish-parliament-agenda#

**** [abridged translation of the article in Vatan (click here for the article in Turkish)]

The draft bill that will allow development of National Parks such as Belgrad Forest, Manyas Lake is to be discussed in the Turkish Parliament.

Despite being opposed to by 113 NGOs, the draft bill (Habitat and Biodiversity Protection) is today presented to the Parliament for discussion. It’s expected the bill will be discussed on Wednesday or Thursday.

Gülümhan Gülten wrote in Vatan newspaper 113 NGOs including TEMA, (an environmental NGO) and TMMOB (Association of Chambers of Engineers and Architects) set up a network called ‘Nature Bill Monitoring Initiative’ and stated that if the bill is voted on in the Parliament this would be a ‘historical mistake’. Vatan newspaper had announced before that the draft bill passed the Parliamentary Environment Commission and it will become law in the General Assembly.

The draft bill is strongly criticised as it abolishes the protection of natural areas such as the coast, forests and cultural and historic heritage areas. If the bill is passed, natural areas can be sacrificed for ‘the overriding public interest’.

The bill was in line for 3 years

If the bill is passed, projects such as luxury housing in Belgrad Forest, an airport in Manyas Lake and others which are currently legally impossible will become possible. The draft bill which has been waiting to be discussed in the Parliament has been pushed forward 27 days before the summer recess. It will be discussed this week after consultation with some university departments.

To encourage tourism

The competent authority for the bill will be the Ministry of Forestry and Water Supply.  The bill will enable projects such as factories and power stations in coastal areas to go ahead under the guise of ‘incentivising tourism’. Clause 29 of the Bill says “For the areas that are identified by Law 2634 as cultural and tourism conservation and development and tourism centres and that fall within this (Habitat and biodiversity) bill, appropriate opinion will be sought from the Ministry’. This means the protected areas that only cover 4-5% of the country can be developed on to ‘incentivise tourism’.
Criticism was not taken into account

The Nature Bill Monitoring Initiative has made several criticisms of the bill. But these were not taken into account when drafting the bill. Criticism about the draft bill also came from outside Turkey. The European Commission expressed opinions similar to the NGOs. In the Commission’s Turkey Progress Report published on 9 November 2010, the draft bill was described as ‘worrying’. But the draft bill went to the Environment Commission of the Parliament with the same ‘worrying’ content.

Mayors to be responsible for National Nature Parks

Clause 10, paragraph 2 of the law says: “The management of the protected areas can be given to or taken from provincial governments, municipalities and foundations and organisations that have related aims, should a request come from these”. The latest example of this shifting of power to provincial governments was in Bolu-Abant Nature Park which suffered irreparable damage.

The statement in the draft bill: “those damaged areas that are beyond restoration back to baseline conditions will need to be restored as close to the baseline as possible” is another cause for concern. ‘As close to baseline as possible’ is not defined scientifically or legally. [note: baseline here is the state before or without the project]

There will be no protection for National Parks

This bill will remove the protection afforded by the National Park status against developments like hydro-power dams in pristine areas. The draft bill states that “National Parks Law (9.8.1983 and number: 2873) is abolished”.

The ‘overriding public benefit’ statement in the draft bill is vague and open to misinterpretation. Public health and national security are included in the definition of overriding public interest under the banner of ‘benefit to environment’ but it’s not clear how this definition will be used in practice.

2 thoughts on “BEYOND GEZI: New Habitats and Biodiversity Bill is pushed through the Turkish Parliament

  1. Pingback: European Union’s bad seabirds and seas policies | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: 3rd Bridge had no Environmental Impact Assessment | translatingtaksim

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