Could the US walk out of Cancun?

This morning, the mood music coming from Cancun was that China and America were working their way through the morass of obstacles to a meaningful agreement. A briefing yesterday by Jonathan Pershing (pictured), the head of the US delegation, and Su Wei, his Chinese counterpart, led to a host of positive headlines.

Reuters reported:

Washington claimed progress on Monday in easing rifts with Beijing on ways to fight global warming as U.N. climate talks got under way in Mexico with warnings about the rising costs of inaction.

“We have spent a lot of energy in the past month working on those issues where we disagree and trying to resolve them,” said Jonathan Pershing, heading the U.S. delegation at the talks in Cancun.

That optimism was replicated in Chinese coverage, as seen here from Chinese news agency Xinhua.

But the message from Washington was tougher, with Todd Stern, the chief climate envoy for the US, telling journalists:

We’re either going to see progress across the range of issues or we’re not going to see much progress. We’re not going to race forward on three issues and take a first step on other important ones. We’re going to have to get them all moving at a similar pace.

That brings back the possibility mentioned last week by Michael Levi that the US might actually walk out of the talks with no agreement. He wrote:

There are decent odds that the United States will be presented with a final package that takes action on all sorts of things that developing countries want but doesn’t have any clear wins for Washington. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see the U.S. reject such an outcome, even if it means walking away with nothing and being attacked for that.

Todd Stern’s words do little to mitigate the worries expressed by Levi, no matter what the soothing words coming from Mexico are.

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