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About David Steven

David Steven is a writer and policy consultant whose work includes a pamphlet on the future of unionism in Northern Ireland (published by Slugger O’Toole) and reports for Daily Summit, at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

Articles by David Steven

This week’s front page editor

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Was Bali a success?

The climate-change conference in Bali on 3-14 December 2007 ended in agreement, acclaim - and argument about the details. openDemocracy writers and environmental specialists offer a first draft of history on the Bali deal.

Leaving Bali for a European destination

The European Union had the last word at Bali and that was probably fitting. They made many concessions and looked at times as if they could be bossed by both the Americans and the large developing countries.

But, all in all, Europe had a good conference. They have become climate change's playmakers, pursuing a strategy that has surprising subtlety.

In Bali - radical commitments

With Bali's biggest decision now made, the media pack has rushed off to file stories, source reaction, or get drunk on the beach. But the action here in plenary is not quite done.

In a meeting under the ‘Kyoto track', countries have just signed up to the kind of ambitious goals that were washed out of the main Bali declaration.

This decision affects all countries that have ratified Kyoto (most of the world other than the USA).  This includes Australia. For the first time, it expressed "strong support" for a goal of reducing rich country emissions by 25-40% by 2020, from a 1990 baseline.

A never-ending night, and longer day

A rolling post, updating the tortuous path towards a Bali agreement. Update 1: a tentative agreement that will be debated further, 8am tomorrow morning. Update 2 (the next morning): the agreement begins to unwind. Update 3: misprint in the text! Update 4: farce. Update 5: Shameful scenes - Yvo de Boer in tears. Update 6: Just when it seemed impossible, Bali roadmap agreed. Update 7: De Boer returns.

Threatening the G77

A sobering review of progress from the G77 and China, whose Chairman just complained bitterly about the pressure developing countries were coming under to make concessions.

Unspecified countries - probably the US and Canada, and possibly Japan as well - had threatened trade sanctions if the developing world refused to take on commitments to reduce or limit their emissions, Munir Akram told us.

In the doldrums

Negotiators are hitting the pain barrier here in Bali, as they press on in search of an agreement after catching only a few hours' sleep last night.

But the rest of us have spent the day in the doldrums. Press conferences have been scheduled and cancelled, and any news that has percolated out has just been more of the same.

We're still fighting over the same issues. How ambitious will the roadmap be? What kind of commitments will developed and developing countries be negotiating over the next couple of years?

The next announcement is scheduled for an hour's time. We'll all turn up and wait for it to be postponed yet again. Who knows when this will end? I will be happy to get out of here before the sunrise tomorrow - but we could still be sitting around sometime tomorrow afternoon.

The American Proposal [update 1]

Last night, we reported on the bombshell proposal from US negotiators to give all countries targets, based on their levels of economic development.

Talks broke up acrimoniously at 3.30, with a plethora of counter-proposals on the table. As he left, Yvo de Boer pronounced himself ‘confident' about reaching agreement - but I think he was joking.

Breaking: Major US move

A late night update from the UN climate conference, where the US has thrown a hand grenade into the talks on the Bali roadmap.

It's close to 1am and the negotiators are still arguing about two main issues:

Undiplomatic truth

"My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali," Al Gore told Bali this evening, to ecstatic applause, putting the blame for any failure to reach agreement firmly in the Bush administration's court.

But he told the people who applauded his words they had a choice. They could get cross with America, and risk derailing the Bali agreement, or they could skirt around the country, leaving a ‘blank space' in the Bali roadmap for a new administration to fill in.

Breaking: Bush climate talks in trouble

There is growing evidence that the EU has threatened to boycott the US major economies process on climate change, "unless there is a substantive outcome" from Bali.

Bali is turning into an asymmetrical battle. The EU badly needs everyone to agree a deal, while the US only needs a few countries to object if it decides to derail the negotiations.

But an EU boycott of US-sponsored talks would be a major slap in the face for the Bush administration. It represents one of the few negotiating cards the EU holds at these talks.

The story has been circulating since yesterday evening, when the French environment minister was said to have had an acrimonious meeting with Paula Dobriansky, head of the US delegation.

Arguing over trivia

Some of the sticking points here in Bali are incredibly trivial and technical.

There's been a collapse on capacity building, for example, where the US has blocked progress on the deal that is on the table.

What's going on here?

The aim is to provide money for developing country governments to participate fully in negotiations, but the US has blocked agreement on the issue.

Two slightly different accounts of why.

According to the UN's Yvo de Boer, the US has said that it wants capacity building to be linked to developing country effectiveness in reporting its progress on tackling climate change. If they do a good job, they get money to invest in expertise.

Talks collapsing? Copier shortage blamed

"I am very concerned by the pace of things," was Yvo de Boer's sobering assessment of the state of play at lunchtime today.

De Boer is worried that so many issues are now linked that the ‘whole house of cards could fall to pieces' as the negotiations get frenzied over the next couple of days. There's also a chance that inadequate logistics could play a role...

US - hubristic, arrogant

The Europeans don't like the message they're getting from the Americans that the IPCC goal of a 25-40% target is based on insufficient evidence to be a useful guide.

"We don't need new studies and research," the German Environment Minister, Sigmar Gabriel. "If we ask the scientists, they're just going to tell us the same thing. We have to reduce 25-40% in developed countries if we want to be on target for 2050.

"It's not a question of known science. It's a question of mathematics. These questions of mathematics are clear since the Egyptians taught us to count."

Miracle needed

"We want to launch a process that is open and does not predetermine or preclude options."

This innocuous phrase represents the key fault line here in Bali - symbolising an ongoing tussle between the Europeans and North Americans.

It represents US willingness to talk about a deal, but only if concrete numbers are stripped out of the Bali declaration.

UN: Turn climate crisis into a climate compact

A downbeat mood in Bali today, where there is shock at the attack on the United Nations in Algeria. The ‘high-level segment' of the conference has just started with a minute's silence. Security has been stepped up a notch, delegates are back in suits, and Ministers and heads of state fill the plenary room.

UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon starts proceedings by condemning the ‘outrageous' attack to the media throng here in Bali. UN staff, who served the ‘highest ideals of humanity', and innocent bystanders have died in a cowardly act, he says. Innocent civilians have also been murdered.

Stern Reviewed

Sir Nicholas Stern - these days a minor deity in the international firmament - spoke at a debate this evening on the new UNDP report on climate change and development.

Stern (whose name is invoked an average of 3,421 times an hour around the Bali conference centre) has become an unrivalled oracle for what climate change will cost, both if fixed and if left unchecked.

But one fact seldom noted is that his report focuses on keeping greenhouse gases below a level of 550ppm - a target that now looks quite dated, with most commentators talking about 450ppm or even lower.

A shocked Brazilian

This afternoon saw a sparky press conference from the Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim.

Amorim represented Brazil at the weekend's talk on trade and climate, where he found himself in a public spat with the US trade rep over the exclusion of biofuels from a proposal to cut tariffs on environmental products.

The move is rank protectionism, he told me, and is still furious about the rejection of what he regards one of the few proven technologies for lowering carbon emissions.

We love you long time

Today sees a new tactic here at Bali - free massages. Yes, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) are helping members of the media ‘relax, unwind and chill out' with a massage and booze on tap.

Presumably, CFACT will use the opportunity to warn journalists about the scientists, media and politicians that they accuse of hyping climate change for personal gain. Or will such 'special services' require an additional payment?

25-40% not dead yet

Sure enough, Yvo de Boer used today's press conference to underline that the 25-40% emissions target for the group of industrialized countries is still in the Bali road map.

This confirms what we reported late last night in our post of the feverish atmosphere here in the Bali bubble.

IPCC and Harlan Watson

As we reported yesterday, Harlan Watson advised the media to be careful of accepting at face value the IPCC's work on climate stabilisation.

For industrialized countries to target a 25-40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 was premature, he suggested. Too few scenarios had been examined the make the figure reliable. Further analysis was needed before the figure could become a basis for negotiation.

So what lies behind his remarks?

The IPCC has set out six scenarios for stabilizing the global climate. Most attention has focused on scenario 1. This scenario would:

Ways in which we are doomed # 94

Does climate change lead to war? UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon thinks so. Darfur "began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change," he claimed back in June.

The suggestion is controversial. Idean Salehyan is an especially fierce critic. Writing in Foreign Policy, he accused Moon of ‘perverse logic'. The Sec Gen's irresponsible rhetoric merely allowed "oppressive, corrupt governments" to escape blame for their actions, Salehvan claimed.

Bali bubble

The problem with being in the Bali bubble is that it's far too easy to lose all sense of proportion. You get hooked on the minutiae of the negotiations and, like any addict, forget about the things that really matter.

Rumours flash from delegations through NGOs to the media (and then bounce right back again). What's true now, may not be in twenty minutes' time. And the problem gets worse the longer the talks go on. Too many people cooped up together, staying up too late (either working or drinking, or sometimes both), going stir crazy, far from home...

Kerry: we lead, you follow close behind

And so to John Kerry, who followed Harlan Watson's press conference with quite a different performance.

Like Al Gore - who will collect his Nobel prize later on today and then jet over to Bali - Kerry is now a climate veteran. His message to Bali in a nutshell: Bush is going, America will do its bit, but the developing world must act too.

US response: fat chance

A few minutes ago, US negotiator, Harlan Watson, made it crystal clear that he has absolutely no intention of signing up to the draft Bali roadmap.

That's no to a 25-40% target by 2020 for developed countries - something Watson thinks would prejudge negotiations and be "totally unrealistic for many countries."

And no, to adding to the text a goal to keep temperatures below 2 degrees, a key European demand. That would not be a helpful starting point for negotiations, he says.

Watson also called for the draft text to be dramatically shortened and simplified, telling the media that "almost every delegation thinks its too long."

A União Européia não diz nada

The EU was saying as little as possible at its press conference this morning.

On the Bali roadmap, its fairly happy with the proposed text, but wants more ambition. However, its main message was the need for urgency. Negotiations will not be completed by 2009 unless a detailed work plan is agreed now for the next couple of years.

Nuno Lacasta, the Portuguese negotiator who speaks for the EU, batted away any requests for specifics on the EU position. He would not be negotiating in the press room, he said. Some very dour press conferences are in prospect...

A solid start

As I suggested yesterday, NGOs have reacted positively to the draft agreement on future commitments. But there's a good chance that their mood will darken as the week goes on.

They'd have preferred mention of 2 degrees in the text and stronger language on legally binding targets. They are also keen to see a clear plan for how the negotiations will be conducted.

But my guess is that, as the week goes on, the text is more likely to be diluted than strengthened.

An emerging deal?

Half way through the UN climate talks here in Bali and we can now see the shape of the deal that will cause next week's most fevered discussion.

Swingeing cuts to greenhouse gases are very much on the table, with rich countries expected to act first and fastest.

India in the shadows

I've been promising something intelligent on India for days now, but it's hard to find time, what with spending all day on the beach.

Fortunately, Joydeep Gupta, a well-connected journalist for the Indo-Asian news service, remains prepared to put the hours in. ‘Why does India get the blame, China the praise?" he asks in an fascinating recent article.

You should read his analysis in full, but the gist is that India has arrived in Bali having failed to complete its homework. Its PR also sucks, even though it has a good story to tell. The country has put aside 2.5% of GDP to adapt to climate change, for example, and has been attempting to improve energy efficiency.

On the Russian proposal

In his press conference this evening, Yvo de Boer gave us an update on the negotiations, focusing in particular on the group that is charged with discussing a post-2012 deal.

There are four issues on the table: reducing emissions (mitigation), adapting to climate change (adaptation), transferring low carbon technologies to poorer countries, and the finance needed to make the transition.

De Boer said good progress was being made by the group, but there are two key areas for concern.

First, we appear to be running out of time. Ministers arrive in the middle of next and there is still a colossal amount to be agreed. The ‘future' group hasn't given more than cursory consideration to the key question of how the transition to a low carbon economy will be paid for, for example. That's a big omission.

Rudd to the rescue?

Australia's position has been all over the place here in Bali. On day 1, it was showered with praise for ratifying Kyoto (a politically costless task as it is already on track to meet its target).

Since then, it has flip flopped over targets for industrialized countries. Today, its trade minister has further fanned the flames of discontent.

"Australia's task is at the appropriate time to commit to targets but it's also to try and secure binding commitments from developing countries," Simon Crean is reported as saying by ABC News.

Canada to world - "after you"

Canada remains under fire here in Bali, where it has laid out eight ‘principles' for a post-2012 climate deal. Most controversial is number 2, which recommends mandatory greenhouse gas targets for developed countries and ‘major industrialized developing countries.'

This is guaranteed to infuriate China (and India too). Which is probably the point. "By being unrealistic in their demands," argues activist Steven Guilbeault, "Canada is trying to create a perfect train wreck here at the summit."

Off to sea

This morning, Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior 2 (the French blew up the first one) arrived in Bali, escorted by a flotilla of fishing boats, and a ship from the Indonesian navy.

I went out to meet it on a boat chartered for the media. During this first-rate jolly research trip, I met Greenpeace's very smart renewables expert. His interview tomorrow, but for now, enjoy the photos.

The case for carbon markets

Back to carbon markets versus carbon taxes. Yesterday, I wrote a long (too long) post on the subject. To save you reading it, the gist was this:

Isn't it surprising that many pro-market economists have come down against carbon markets, and in favour of carbon taxes?

The UNFCCC is adamantly pro-markets. So today I asked its Secretary General, Yvo de Boer, why many economists take a different view, preferring a carbon tax.

[quote]I think most economists are saying it's a mixture of markets, taxes, and policy and measures [regulation, to you and I].You need a variety of instruments.

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