The United States appears to be playing tough guy at the UN Climate Summit in Cancun. There's speculation that America's "all or nothing" demands could see the US delegation simply walk out.
Basically, the US wants any agreement on adaptation finance, technology, deforestation, etc., to incorporate tough terms for emissions cuts by emerging economies (i.e. China and India) and a verifiable system of auditing those cuts.
That might sound reasonable if America's Congress was intent on cutting US emissions to acknowledge its per capita emissions imbalance, but it's not. Anything but. The Republican-majority House of Representatives is packed to the gunwales with climate change denialists and is openly planning on blocking any emissions reductions initiatives.
It's a repeat of the same stupid child's game that's been going on for some time. America, whose per capita emissions are massive compared to the emerging economies, wants to mask that by focusing on overall emissions, country by country. China and India, whose populations dwarf America's, want the per capita emissions factored in. China also wants some recognition that a good deal of its overall emissions come from producing goods that are ordered for American store shelves. They argue that the end-user shares responsibility for the emissions from the goods they consume no matter where they're manufactured. Of course that would blow America's overall and per capita emissions right through the roof so there'll be no concessions on that approach.
The hard line – which some in Washington have seen as ritual diplomatic posturing – has fuelled speculation that the Obama administration could be prepared to walk out of the Cancún talks.
It is already under pressure for its green agenda from a new conservative Republican power bloc in Congress determined to block the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to act on greenhouse gases and other sources of pollution, and defund programmes dealing with climate change. There is next to no chance Congress would take up cap-and-trade legislation or ratify any UN treaty.
The administration's weak domestic position, in turn, has cast doubts on its ability to deliver even the very modest 17% cut on 2005 emissions Obama agreed at the Copenhagen summit last year.
But a walk-out would wreck any lingering hopes that small progress in Cancún might put the UN negotiations process back on track after the debacle of Copenhagen.
Mexico's Calderon hit the nail on the head when he said delegates have to stop approaching these talks from the perspective of their own governments and instead stand up for their countries' future generations. He's right. Once you shift that focus, the problem and the solutions become alarmingly obvious.