It is one of the truisms of negotiating that you are far more likely to find yourself being outmanoeuvred by the other party when you are in the wrong.
Go in with a ridiculously low offer and in most circumstances the other party will simply tell you where to go. Get it wrong the other way and go in way too high and you have will have lost before the negotiations have even begun.
Hence, with precisely 100 days to go before the start of the UN's climate change conference in Copenhagen, the negotiators working on behalf of the world's rich nations once again find themselves being comprehensively outmanoeuvred in the court of global public opinion by their counterparts from emerging economies.
When last we left the men and women entrusted with saving the planet at the close of this month's Bonn talks, the negotiating process was once again in deadlock. It is a gross simplification of a mind-bendingly complex situation, but in essence the rich nations were demanding that the likes of China and India do more to tackle climate change, while poorer countries were demanding that the West face up to its historic responsibility and agree to deeper emission cuts and more generous clean tech funding.
The problem for the rich countries is that they keep backing themselves into a corner. They keep asking for greater demonstrations of commitment from emerging nations and they keep getting exactly that.
In the past few weeks, China has passed its first climate change resolution, laying the legal framework for a full blown climate change strategy (contrast this with US legislators apparent inability to fast track their increasingly anaemic climate change bill), hinted strongly that it accepts the need to set emission targets in the not to distant future, introduced some of the world's most generous renewable energy incentive schemes and given the go-ahead for a raft of new low carbon projects.
Meanwhile, India, which had been flirting with the position of negotiating blockade formerly occupied by the US, has given its clearest signal yet that it will introduce serious efforts to cut emissions in the form of a wide-ranging energy efficiency programme. And Indonesia, the other big emitter from the developing world, has put EU talks of 20 per cent emission cuts to shame by acknowledging that with the right support it could cut emissions 60 per cent by 2030.
The rich nations are likely to respond by arguing that this is all well and good, but means little unless large polluters such as China and India agree to binding emission goals.
But again you can see how simple it will be for China and India to repel this gambit. "Fine, we'll have targets," they will say. "But they have to be on a per capita basis. You say a human life is worth the same whether they are in the rich or poor world, so prove it." My maths may be a little hazy, but that would basically mean most western nations committing to emission cuts in excess of 40 per cent by 2020, while emerging economies would be able to continue to grow their emissions steadily for another 10 years or so.
Like I say, it is easy to outmanoeuvre someone when they are in the wrong, and the rich world is morally, tactically and strategically in the wrong on this one.
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