Experts refute the Turkish government's reforestation claims
By Esra Ciftci
A recent controversy over deforestation for a coal mine in Muğla's Akbelen Forest has renewed scrutiny of the Turkish government's environmental record. The ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) and pro-government media have claimed that Turkey has seen more deforestation under AKP rule than any other government in Turkey's history. However, forestry experts argue that these claims are false and exaggerate the government's reforestation efforts.
According to Professor Erdoğan Atmış, a forestry policy expert at Bartın University, the AKP government inflates afforestation figures by counting the rehabilitation of existing forests as new afforestation. Atmis cited data from the General Directorate of Forestry showing that from 2003 to 2021, under AKP rule, 609,090 hectares were afforested over 19 years, an average of 32,000 hectares per year. But from 1984-2002, before the AKP rule, 1,115,367 hectares were afforested in 19 years, averaging 59,000 per year.
Atmis says the increase in Turkey's forest cover since the 1970s is mainly due to a decline in the rural population, allowing forests to regrow naturally on abandoned agricultural land. He adds that new surveys identifying existing forest areas have also increased. Meanwhile, forest cover has declined in industrialized provinces with high levels of migration, such as Istanbul and Kocaeli.
The AKP government claims that Turkey ranks first in Europe and fourth in the world regarding reforestation. However, Atmis says there is no data to support this claim. According to the United Nations' 2020 Global Forest Assessment Report, Turkey ranks 6th in the increase of forest area between 2010 and 2020, which can be attributed to rural-urban migration. The report does not rank Turkey 4th in the world for afforestation.
Globally, only 7% of forests come from afforestation. In Turkey, afforested areas account for only 3.2% of the total forest area. While 144,000 hectares were added through afforestation under the AKP, 662,000 hectares were opened for mining, energy, tourism, and other uses, effectively destroying these forests.
Atmis notes that while reforestation has been minimal, existing forests are being degraded at an increasing rate under the guise of "development." 2.7% of Turkey's forests have been cleared since 1973 under the 2/B provision, which allows conversion to agriculture. Another 3.5% has been allocated for non-forestry industrial uses such as mining. In total, 6.2% of Turkey's forests have been destroyed, almost double the 3.2% added through afforestation.