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Turkey: Promoting integration of health evidence in energy decisions

The Iskenderun Bay region in Turkey faces a huge health challenge with plans to build around 20 new coal-fired power plants. A state court recently ruled that cumulative impact assessments need to be carried out for all new projects, to assess the total burden from pollution.

The historic and beautiful region has a population of over six million and Iskenderun Bay is surrounded by three densely populated cities, Adana, Mersin and Hatay. It is one of Turkey’s agricultural hubs, and hosting the highest steel production in the country, along with metal products, machinery, cement, petro-chemical, and textile industries, as well as two important international crude oil pipelines.

In support of the existing and future industrial infrastructure, the government plans to further develop the region as an energy industry zone - promoting new coal power generation with about 20 new coal plants with a 17,000 MW total installed capacity.

Concerns over new plants

Many citizens of Iskenderun Bay are very concerned that new plants will bring an additional health burden due to an increase in pollution levels. The densely populated metropolitan cities will be exposed to further air pollution, adding to already unhealthy levels of ambient particulate matter (PM10) concentrations mainly from coal burning for residential heating, and traffic. Heavy metal and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) concentrations are expected to rise further in the region where already existing concentrations of these pollutants have been observed to be above national standards in soil and surface waters due to industrial, mainly steel production, facilities.

A platform against coal power generation in the region has been active for years now, which brings together professional organisations of agricultural and geological engineers, lawyers as well as an environmental and consumer rights society. Amongst the most active members of the platform are primary care physicians, pharmacists, and public health specialists. The platform made legal interventions to ongoing environmental impact assessment processes of some of the coal power projects; and was successful in getting state council decisions asking for cumulative impact assessment to be conducted for all new projects. This should take into consideration the existing pollution levels and additional pollution which may result from other projects planned in the region.

Thanks to the local engagement, 10 other companies’ applications for electricity generation licenses were cancelled or rejected by the national authorities. In October 2015, as a results of a successful joint campaign of local, national and international NGOs, the French energy company ENGIE, which is a partly state-owned company, announced that it had withdrew its coal power plant project Ada, Adana. Yet, 20 more plant projects continue to threaten the health of citizens in the Iskenderun Bay region.

Further information

Originally posted on 17 December 2015

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