The notion, suggested after China and the United States agreed to a leaky deal on climate change, that this development would pressure Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take more decisive action lies somewhere between wishful thinking and a misreading of the man and the issue.
Start from observable premises.
First, Mr. Harper doesn't like the issue of climate change. He avoids it wherever possible and looks distinctly uncomfortable when forced to discuss it. He considers it a political and economic loser.
Second, the core of his party doesn't like the issue either, believing climate change to be unrelated to human activities, too expensive to worry about, or a plot by lefty enviros to nail: a) Alberta; b) jobs; and c) "hard-working taxpayers." Canadians who want more action won't be voting Conservative anyway.
Third, Mr. Harper dislikes being pressured. When it happens, he prefers to push back rather than yield. Call it stubbornness. Call it principled. It's how he is. The idea that he would be pressured by a "deal" whose impact won't be felt for decades belies everything we know about the man.
Fourth, the deal itself looks more hopeful on paper than it will likely be in reality. President Barack Obama's commitment for the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2025 depends on the multiple vagaries of U.S. politics.
Within nanoseconds, Republicans and all manner of conservatives denounced it. Getting anything done in the U.S. political system as it now operates is hard to impossible. A promise made today about future action isn't worth the paper it's written on.
As for China, its authoritarian government can get things done, but the commitment to cap emissions by 2030 gives China another decade and a half to keep spewing pollution into the atmosphere. Asking the United States to reduce while China increases emissions will be a very hard political "sell."
Mr. Harper has often remarked, correctly, that countries promise more than they deliver in reducing emissions, which is why he bats away criticism of Canada's doleful record, including that of his own government.
Fifth, although this China-U.S. "deal" involves the world's two largest emitters, Mr. Harper will ask: Where are Russia, India and the oil-producing countries of the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia to Iran? Implicitly, he will be saying: Why should Canada do much more when not everyone else will try?
These non-performers are all bad polluters with little if any interest in taking action. And then there's his political soulmate in Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who scrapped a carbon-pricing scheme introduced by the previous government. As soon as Mr. Abbott took that decision, Mr. Harper sent him a public, congratulatory message.
There is no easy or fast answer to moving countries to take more action against greenhouse gas emissions. But one indispensable factor must be that vague notion of "political leadership."
Unless political leaders speak to an issue, frame it, explain why citizens should be interested or engaged, and then suggest solutions, an issue will lie at the margins of the public's consciousness.
When a leader such as Mr. Harper spends the better part of a decade not even speaking about the issue, let alone the rest of what political leadership entails, there is almost no chance the general public will be alerted to its importance. This is especially true of the leader's natural political followers.
Leadership means a willingness to spend political capital on an issue, and in Canada's case, there is no such leadership at the top. That this absence would suddenly shift as a result of a China-U.S. understanding is improbable in the extreme.
True, the European Union has given itself a vague goal of reducing emissions over time by 40 per cent, without specifying how that ambition can be realized. The EU's one step forward/one step back on climate change is hardly a record that will push Mr. Harper.
Surely, some might ask, the impression of Canada as outlier will embarrass the government, to which the response might be: Since when has this government been embarrassed by its yearly victory in the "fossil of the year" award or international denunciation at climate change conferences?
Indeed, hard as it might be to believe, Canada's environment ministers have been applauded by members of the parliamentary caucus for earning those criticisms.
With attitudes like that, don't hold your breath waiting for Mr. Harper to give in to pressure.