Her work as a pioneer of the zero waste movement in Turkey made first lady Emine Erdoğan an inaugural recipient of the World Bank’s Climate and Development Leadership Award. She received her award at a ceremony in State Guest House in the Presidential Complex in the capital Ankara on Thursday.
“I accept this meaningful award on behalf of all nature lovers who are united for a fair future for our children,” Erdoğan said at the award ceremony.
She noted that climate change was no longer a mere environmental problem but rather a global crisis deeply affecting the development and welfare of countries and a great concern for the future of humanity, adding that Turkey, like all other countries, felt the impact of climate change. “We are at a critical threshold in the fight against climate change. Turkey approaches this crisis by viewing the Earth as our shared home,” she said.
The first lady launched the Zero Waste Project in 2017, and it has been spearheaded by the Ministry of Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change since then. As its name implies, the initiative aims to eliminate all waste, especially the kinds that pollute the environment, through recycling and other means. It seeks to revert industrial pollution and a culture of waste that permeates society. It is all-encompassing, targeting everything from massive business complexes to one-person households in its bid to minimize waste, particularly discarded plastics and food. Moreover, its ambitions include saving billions for the country, where packages of products have long been confined to limited recycling efforts.
Since its inception, the project has given back more than $1.8 billion (TL 30 billion) to the economy that would typically have been wasted. In addition, it saved 265 million trees and prevented the emission of 3 million tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere that would further pollute the air in the country already grappling with the impact of climate change.
It was first implemented in government offices, with several ministries adopting the scheme by sorting out their waste at the source instead of random disposal. In five years, the number of public agencies and private companies adhering to the practice has reached 140,000. Figures by the ministry show the country’s recycling rate, which was 13% when the project kicked off in 2017, was 25% in 2021.
It also branched out to seas under the title of “zero waste blue” to save bodies of water from pollution through massive cleanup campaigns. As of 2022, the amount of maritime waste collected and delivered to proper disposal facilities reached about 134,000 tons.
The project received awards last year from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the U.N.-Habitat program and was also included in an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country report in 2019 as a promising project. More recently, it was honored by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, something the first lady says is important as Turkey is “a significant actor” in the Mediterranean region, “one of the places affected by climate change most.”
In the award ceremony, Erdoğan said the fight against climate change was multidimensional and required the transformation of many sectors, from transportation to industry, agriculture and health.
New projects and steps
She stated that the World Bank led the way for countries with its 2021-2025 Climate Change Action Plan, citing financing and technology transfer by the international body for the climate change fight, which supports the countries party to the Paris climate deal. She said that they were “excited” to prepare for new projects with the World Bank in fields including preservation of Turkey’s forests and seas, flood management, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. She also expressed her appreciation for the World Bank’s “Türkiye Country Climate and Development Report (CCDR).” The CCDR’S first edition was released last month and said Turkey stood to reap $146 billion (TL 2.52 trillion) in savings over the next 20 years if it takes effective and appropriate actions to boost resilience and adaptation against the impact of climate change.
Erdoğan said that she believed the report, which analyzes the costs and benefits of Turkey’s work for the net-zero emission goal for 2053, will be a guide for work in this field. “It contains a very important message. Countries can successfully fight against climate change while boosting their development and welfare levels,” she said.
She also recommended a series of new steps to raise awareness of the climate change impact. “Educational and cultural work that will reestablish environmental consciousness is as important as other investments. I propose organizing youth camps and workshops among the youth of different countries to achieve this. Let us show the youth how civilizations should approach nature and how it is reflected in the arts, literature and living culture. I believe this effort will sow the seeds of ‘sustainable love,’ which is the most important driving force for a sustainable world,” she said.
For his part, World Bank Country Director for Turkey Auguste Tano Kouame said Turkey put climate action at the center of its national strategy for economic growth and social welfare with the support of Emine Erdoğan. “Your leadership on climate change lays the foundation for future generations on this issue and is exemplary in the world,” he told the first lady at the ceremony. Citing Turkey’s ratification of the Paris deal, Kouame said it would benefit the Turkish people and humanity. Kouame said Turkey was fighting climate change before the ratification and Erdoğan supported the “groundbreaking” zero waste project, which paved the way for a more comprehensive shift to a circular economy.
“You are a true climate champion,” Kouame told Erdoğan.
Answering reporters’ questions following the ceremony, Emine Erdoğan said she never thought she would achieve such progress when she first initiated the project. “I did not do it for awards but it is an added bonus and I received this award for my country, nation and on behalf of academics and environmental activists who prepared the infrastructure (for the zero waste project),” she said. “We still have a lot to do but I believe we will accomplish it together. It is particularly important for the youth to have faith in this project. Eventually, they will inherit this project and continue it,” she said.