I was talking to a friend about the Copenhagen climate summit the other day.
She was aghast – and angry – that, even in a best case deal, the United States will take on an emissions target that is no more onerous than that given to the European Union (and may be considerably less so).
US emissions have shot up during the Kyoto years, with the average American now accounting for twice the emissions of his/her European counterpart. But EU negotiators are so desperate to have the US rejoin the party that they’ll swallow more or less any commitment that their US counterparts are prepared to put on the table.
My friend’s visceral reaction is evidence, I think, that outside the ‘climate bubble’, citizens in European countries have not even begun to ask themselves what a fair deal on climate looks like.
This creates a real chance of a backlash when they finally work out that the United States expects to be allowed to continue to emit more than Europe for the next thirty or forty years – and possibly for much longer.
That’s why John Kerry got all hot under the collar when I asked him at Bali whether all countries should be heading for similar levels of emissions per head, dismissing those who insisted on playing what he called ‘the per capita game’.
It’s also why American politicians obsess over the fact the China now emits more than the US, but fail to remind their audiences that there are more than four Chinese for every American.
Past form would suggest that European governments will be meek, mild and biddable in Copenhagen, doing everything they can to make Barack Obama’s life as easy as possible. But it would be a mistake for them to be too supine.
After all, no-one respects weakness, especially Americans. And European citizens will have no hesitation in knifing their governments, when they work out that they didn’t even try to get its transatlantic cousins to finally begin to pull their weight.