That is exactly what has been happening in the run-up to the crucial world climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Negotiators, led by the host country’s Prime Minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, have been deliberately lowering expectations so that whatever agreement is reached next month will seem like a breakthrough.

The resulting uncertainty has put all those who care about the future of the planet on a rollercoaster of hopes and fears over the last two weeks. At times the summit has looked doomed, but then have come signs that something worthwhile could be salvaged.

This weekend, the prevailing mood among the many experts and observers canvassed by the Sunday Herald is a kind of desperate optimism. This is often coupled with increasingly anxious pleas for world leaders to see sense and do the right thing.

“Some countries have been working hard to play down expectations, in a cynical race to the bottom aimed at making almost anything coming out of Copenhagen look like a good result,” said Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland.

But a good deal was still possible, he insisted. “Most of the world’s nations are still pushing for a strong, legally binding outcome at Copenhagen. Everything is in place to achieve this -- the only ingredient in question is political will,” he said.

“President Obama’s strong positive statements last week, and the promise of a new US offer on climate targets, make us optimistic that we can get past the playing down and come out of the crucial two-week talks with a good result.”

Similarly, according to Oxfam International, there is still everything to play for. “A willingness to put concrete targets on emissions reductions and climate finance raises hopes that the talks in Copenhagen will be about substance -- and not just style,” said Antonio Hill, the organisation’s senior climate adviser.

“The ball is now in the rich countries’ court. With binding commitments to cut emissions and a substantial financial package to help poor countries tackle climate change, the world can still shake hands on a fair and ambitious deal in Copenhagen.”

For Oxfam, and most others, that would essentially mean two things -- rich countries promise to cut their climate pollution by at least 40% by 2020, and then commit to finding at least an extra $150billion (£90.8bn) a year to help poor countries cope.

This week Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will pile the pressure on world leaders by calling for tougher action at Copenhagen. A huge “climate injustice” has been inflicted on poor countries by the lifestyles chosen by rich countries like Scotland, she will argue.

It is not about polar bears, but about the lives of millions of people in poor countries being devastated by floods and droughts, she will tell a major human rights conference in Glasgow.

Mrs Robinson is planning to go to Copenhagen to push for more funding for developing countries.

“We need a big adaptation fund and a commitment that it is in addition to development aid,” she says in a video message from New York. “It mustn’t be a moving around of pots of money, it must be real new money.”

Two new reports out this week will also ramp up the need for urgent action. One, from climate experts tomorrow, will warn that the world is perilously close to “tipping points” like the collapse of the Amazon rainforest which could accelerate dangerous climate change.

Then, on Tuesday, the Global Footprint Network, an international think-tank based in Oakland, California, will produce new figures showing that the world is increasingly outstripping its capacity to sustain itself. The gap between what humanity is demanding and what nature can supply is growing ever wider, it will say.

“Often forgotten in the discussion around Copenhagen is the fact that we can’t bargain with nature,” the network’s president, Mathis Wackernagel, told the Sunday Herald.

“We are hitting ecological limits, and those countries that prepare for a resource-constrained future, such as by investing in renewable energy and clean technology, will be best positioned to meet the future, while those that continue with business as usual will face increasing cost and risk.”

Whether that message gets through to the political leaders who will be making the crunch decisions in Copenhagen remains to be seen. “There won’t be a just outcome, but there could still be important steps in the right direction,” predicted Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

“It’s clear many negotiators are talking down the prospects of a successful outcome, but we fear they aren’t just managing expectations, more engaging in a deliberate strategy to push the radical but legitimate demands for climate justice being made by poorer countries to the margins of the negotiating process.”

The lack of political will being signalled by some world leaders was “very disappointing”, according to Christian Aid Scotland’s Claire Aston. “But we still believe that this is our best chance yet to secure a fair, ambitious and binding deal for the world’s poor,” she added.

She called on as many people as possible to support the “Wave” demonstration for action on climate change in Glasgow on December 5. This will be the first of a series of protests planned before leaders sit down in the Bella conference centre in Copenhagen.

Other demonstrations have been planned in the Danish city over the weekend of December 12-13, including an advertised attempt to close down the harbour. Some activists, convinced the summit will fail, are already predicting that developing countries will walk out on December 16.

Whatever happens, one disturbing fact can’t be avoided. “The clock is ticking,” said Aston. “While we wait for the world’s richest countries to agree a deal, 300,000 people are dying every year in the developing world because of climate change.”