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Turkey’s canal project goes against 17 UN goals, İstanbul mayor says at COP26

Mayor of Istanbul metropolitan municipality, Ekrem Imamoglu (C) speaks during a launch event to announce a new sport strategy and future sport plan on July 13, 2021 in Istanbul. Imamoğlu announced on July 13 that Turkey's largest city wanted to host the Olympic Games in 2036. Ozan KOSE / AFP

İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu said at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow that Kanal İstanbul, a proposed artificial sea-level waterway in İstanbul, goes against the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the ANKA news agency reported on Thursday.

The mayor on Thursday spoke at a panel discussion titled “Race to Zero” by C40, a network of mayors of nearly 100 world cities, including İstanbul, collaborating to cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to limit global heating to the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement.

Moderated by Cristina Gamboa, CEO of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), the panel discussion also saw the attendance of Romeu Zema, governor of the state of Minas Gerais in Brazilia and Elizabeth Chege, vice chair at WorldGBC and chair of the Africa Regional Network, ANKA said.

Noting that İstanbul is the only city in Turkey that is a member of the C40, İmamoğlu said: “We think the Kanal İstanbul project forced on İstanbul poses the most serious risk for the security of the city in many respects. We also see that this project is against the UN’s 17 principles within the scope of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The mayor urged all international actors, including financial institutions, to show solidarity with them, as opposition parties previously had declared that they would stop funding the project when they come to power in an effort to dissuade potential investors in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “crazy project,” which will bisect the European side of İstanbul to connect the Black Sea to the Marmara and Mediterranean seas.

İmamoğlu emphasized that İstanbul, which has one of the highest earthquake risks in the world, was located at a geopolitically strategic point, in and around of which half of Turkey’s industrial production takes place, in addition to direct investments of many countries, especially the European Union and the US.

“We consider it vital to make İstanbul, Europe’s largest city, earthquake-resistant, not only for the future of İstanbul and Turkey, but also for the entire continent,” he continued, stating that the Kanal İstanbul project could worsen the earthquake risk in the city of 16 million.

During the groundbreaking ceremony of the project in late June, Erdoğan had harshly criticized the opposition parties’ position, saying: “They are threatening investors and banks and even countries interested in this project. They’ll take their money by force [if necessary] through international arbitration.”

While Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government claim the channel is necessary for the safety of İstanbul’s Bosporus Strait, which sees busy marine traffic, critics of the project argue it is aimed at generating money for pro-AKP circles and will damage the environment.

The plans to construct the canal have also opened up a debate about Turkey’s commitment to the 1936 Montreux Convention, which is aimed at demilitarizing the Black Sea by setting strict commercial and naval rules on passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits leading to the Mediterranean.

Erdoğan previously said his AKP government would build Kanal İstanbul despite the criticism.

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