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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 editor

Rosemary Belcher-2.jpg

Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Earthquake?

AP is reporting that "a strong earthquake has just rattled the island of Bali." None of us here in the press room felt anything though...

Friday round-up

This morning, I escaped from the ‘bubble' for a while (more on that later), so I only arrived in the convention centre around midday.

Delegates were not so lucky. In the first week of a negotiation like this one, the formal talks splinter into a dizzying array of smaller groups. Each is set up to focus on a contentious area where a decision is needed. Later on, if a miracle occurs, the output from each group is pieced together. Even more rarely, something coherent emerges.

If you think your government reps are enjoying a holiday at taxpayers' expense, you're mostly wrong. Some of the hotels in the main complex are very swanky, to be sure. But delegates mostly work and sleep. If things hot up next week, which they probably will, sleep too is dispensed with.

Scientists running scared

Today, a group of the 'world's top climate scientists' came to Bali to call for deep emission cuts. 'Time is running out,' one of them warned, 'Humanity cannot afford a failure at Bali.'

Stirring stuff. But, in many ways, their statement was most notable not for who signed it, but for which climate scientists refused to, and why. And for what it left unsaid, as much as what it did tell us.

But first, the demands the scientists made. It's a familiar list:

Saying no to markets

Over the past year or so, a number of economists and other market-friendly commentators have fallen out of love with market solutions to climate change. Most of them would prefer a carbon tax - which is, on the face of it, surprising.

‘Economists demand new taxes' is not a commonly used headline. So what's going on?

Martin Wolf, the FT's chief economic commentator, is one of those leading the charge for taxes. Unlike some who rely purely utilitarian arguments, Wolf is refreshingly explicit about his libertarian (or as a Brit would put it, liberal) concerns.

News from elsewhere

US domestic politics is an ever-present influence here in Bali. Every delegation - whether or not it approves of current Bush administration climate policy - is inevitably looking towards 2009 when a new President will take office.

A harbinger of change is a flurry of activity in the US Congress and Senate. Late last night, the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill finally made it out of a Senate committee, and is now headed for a full debate on the floor.

The bill's supporters are jubilant. John Warner, a Republican and one of two co-sponsors, believes that it is time for the US to take a leadership role on the issue. "If we don't act, China and India will simply hide behind America's skirts of inaction," he says.

Breaking: Date set for next 'major emitters' meeting

At his press briefing today, I asked Harlan Watson, lead US negotiator, whether he could confirm that the US had recently sent round invites to a second meeting on climate change for the major economies.

It turns out the meeting has been scheduled for the end of January in Honolulu, but had not yet been publicly announced.

Who runs what?

A year ago, the UN's climate change conference in Nairobi was described by openDemocracy as ‘rhetoric-heavy but action-light'. But developing countries were much happier with the outcome.

Why? Because the decision was taken to set up a fund to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change. In Bali, however, squabbles about the management of the new Adaptation Fund are taking up valuable air time.

What's love got to do with it

As we reported on Sunday, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Convention, has been urging countries to focus on process not substance. He wants countries to focus on ‘tools and instruments' here at Bali, and leave tough talk about targets for a later meeting.

‘A marriage contract is the culmination of a love affair,' he says, ‘not the topic of discussion on the first date.'

Speaking for Climate Action Network Europe today, Matthias Dowe argued that we have moved far beyond the flush of first love. 'These parties have been dating for over fifteen years.'

Dumping on Kyoto

‘Kyoto's failure haunts new U.N. talks.' ‘Time to ditch Kyoto.' These recent headlines have found a ready audience among those who have never liked the treaty.

But has Kyoto really proved a let down? Or is it performing as advertised when it was agreed with great fanfare in 1997, and then ratified a little over 7 painful years later?

Join our 'special' group

It took up only a few innocuous words in the unofficial record of yesterday's proceedings. Delegates here in Bali had agreed to ‘prepare options for consideration by the ministers, focusing on the form, substantive scope and timeframe of the process and its budgetary implications.'

Doesn't sound like much, but according to Yvo de Boer, Executive General of the UNFCCC, it's something of a triumph and one that, for a while, it seemed that Saudi Arabia would block.

The ‘contact group' will allow delegates to take negotiations about future options out of the full plenary and should allow them to prepare a menu of possible solutions for Ministers to sign up to when they arrive next week.

China in the hot seat

There's a long list of things George Bush hates about Kyoto. It would, he argues, have cost too many American jobs, been ruinous for the US economy, driven up energy prices, and stopped the country burning its vast stocks of coal.

But one thing really seems to sticks in his craw: China.

Kicking Canada

Canada was given a good kicking at today’s Climate Action Network press conference, spicing things up after the desperately dull fare the NGOs served up yesterday.

They accused Canada of reneging on Kyoto, steering away from binding targets, and attempting to rile China and India into derailing progress.

Canada’s performance against its Kyoto targets is indeed lamentable. Its greenhouse gas emissions have risen 25% since 1990. Include land use and forestry, and the news gets worse: a 54% rise. Canada’s Kyoto target was to achieve a 6% cut.

Europe's Demands

So what about the Europeans? Their position is pretty clear - and starkly opposed to the UNFCCC's desire to avoid talking turkey until next year.

Europe wants dramatic cuts in emissions - and believes the US should cut its greenhouse gases by a third in just 12 years. Any roadmap for future negotiations must be specific about the 'level of ambition' for the future.

Turning Japanese

At their press conference, the Japanese delegation were complaining that some countries hadn’t take a fair share of the burden under the Kyoto Protocol. I asked the obvious question – ‘which ones?’

The panel started giggling like naughty schoolboys and I fully expected them to refuse to respond. But not all. Admitting he might get himself into trouble, Counsellor Oe, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, proved quite happy to name names.

Needling and Needing America

When the UN debates the big global issues, you can always trust the United States to be in the thick of the action.


Five years ago, I was in Johannesburg, blogging the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Then the US took on all comers over toilets. For all sorts of reasons (some of which were, in fact, laudable), it held out against a target for getting basic sanitation to more poor people.

The Big Question

So we're off.

Ten thousand or so delegates are beginning to struggle through accreditation. Electricians are rushing to finish wiring up the convention centre. And the vanguard of an army of a thousand or so journalists have set up their laptops in the tent that will be their home for duration of the Bali meeting.

Proceedings started with the first of a hundred or so press conferences that we are threatened with over the next fortnight. Yvo de Boer, the UNFCCC's Secretary General, was the main draw.

Dawn in the 'Devil's City'

Helon Habila’s debut novel, “Waiting for an Angel”, is set in Lagos during Nigeria’s brutal years of military repression. Its author reflects on the complex relationship between violence and freedom in the ‘Devil’s City’.

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