What if China did a complete 180 and agreed to legally binding greenhouse gas emission cuts including international monitoring and verification? Don't laugh, they might just do that at Cancun.
Are the Chinese calling our bluff? The U.S. and its faithful lapdog, a.k.a. the Harper government, have been dragging their heels on serious emissions cuts, hiding behind the argument that we need a binding agreement with the developing nations (i.e. China and India) first.
That was always a pretty rich argument coming from Canada, the world's emerging petro-state, governed by petro-pols, Tar Sanders and Fossil Fuelers. It was also a giggle coming from the Americans with their "bought and paid for" Congress securely in the arms of Big Oil and Big Coal. Yet to the willingly gullible it sounded like a plausible position - but only so long as the other side kept saying no.
Shit, oh dear, what have we done? Has our game plan counted on Chinese intransigence? Do we even have a Plan B? What if the Chinese use their concession on overall emissions to bolster their argument on per capita emissions equality? Don't understand that one? Bear with me.
The historic (and I suspect desired) standoff between North America and the emerging economic superpowers has featured two equally plausible yet irreconcilable arguments behind which both sides could shelter with their supposed moral integrity intact. Our side focused on total, overall emissions and told the Chinese that, as the newly crowned top overall emitter, we demanded they sign on for binding reductions subject to international verification. The Chinese retorted that their emissions needed to recognize that they were more than three times as populous as America and that, therefore, Americans were the real emissions swine, pumping out three times as much greenhouse gas per capita than the average Chinese guy.
The per capita argument has roughly the same moral weight as our, overall emissions argument. China's pair of aces is backed up by a king - the argument that much of their emissions results from industrial production that is destined for WalMart shelves across America. The Chinese didn't show up in the middle of the night and walk away with our manufacturing plants. They didn't steal General Motors. G.M. went over there and took those jobs with it. So there is some legitimacy to China's backup argument.
So the dilemma becomes how, if the Chinese concede to our demands, do we persist in rejecting theirs without totally losing the moral high ground? I don't think we can hope to come out of this ahead. In fact, I'm pretty sure the last thing we want to do is to honour our own, reciprocal obligations under our demand - simple binding and verifiable reductions in overall emissions.
Let's put it this way. Canadians would have some tough choices - keep Athabasca rolling and growing or walk to work. A strict, meaningful emissions reduction regime that didn't crack down on Athabasca would have to be met on the backs of other industries and the Canadian public. And those parties might want to know why in hell they had to make good Athabasca's emissions? And Harper might have to come up with an answer he doesn't have.
I think the Chinese might call our bluff and force us to admit we've been bluffing all along.