Few new ideas emerge from latest U.N. climate meetings

What comes after Kyoto? That was the focus of a 190-nation, two-day seminar convened by the U.N. this week in Bonn, Germany, the first in what’s likely to be a gazillion-step process of figuring out what sort of climate-change treaty should pick up where the Kyoto Protocol leaves off. As usual, U.S. representatives were brimming with enthusiasm: “It’s not clear that there’s going to be a Kyoto effort beyond 2012,” said U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson. Feel the love! Other countries were more supportive, but familiar arguments surfaced immediately. Developed countries argued that emissions caps should be extended to developing countries; developing countries argued that developed countries should meet their existing caps first. And so on. The one newish idea to emerge came from geopolitical powerhouse Papua New Guinea, which suggested that developing countries with remaining intact rainforest be paid to preserve it. After all, the Papuan ambassador reasoned, rainforests absorb carbon, and “a tonne is a tonne is a tonne.” At which point Watson woke up long enough to wonder, “What’s a ‘tonne’?”