Last week in Milan, Italy, delegates from 180 countries met to discuss the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The treaty must be ratified by industrialized nations that account for 55 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the benchmark year of 1990. European Union countries, Japan, Canada, China and Brazil have ratified the treaty.
The United States withdrew from Kyoto in 2001. The support of Russia is critical for the treaty to go into effect, and Moscow's failure to express that support at the Milan meeting puts the Kyoto agreement in doubt.
A new report by the non-partisan PEW Center on Global Climate Change - released in Milan this week, looks beyond Kyoto to examine the challenges facing the international community as it tries to advance a plan to control climate-changing industrial emissions.
The Pew Center's Executive Director, Eileen Claussen, says even if Kyoto were to go into effect, the Protocol is at best a first step.
"With or without Kyoto we face the same fundamental challenge engaging all the world's major emitters in a long-term effort that fairly and effectively mobilizes the resources and technology needed to protect the global climate," she noted.
Eileen Claussen says the report, written and peer reviewed by a multinational panel of scientists and negotiators, examines core issues in the climate change debate.
"Issues that have really loomed from the outset," she said. "Issues like: how best to orient action to the ultimate objective of stabilizing the climate, how to manage the costs of climate action, how to arrive at agreements that are fair."
One of the strongest themes to emerge from the report is the need of each country to make treaty commitments in harmony with their domestic policies.
Elliot Diringer, Director of International Strategies at the Pew center says countries will engage in collective action only if they perceive it to be in their own self-interest.
"I think the lesson here is not that international action should be held hostage to domestic whims," he said. "Rather it is that parties need to understand the respective domestic concerns of one another and they need to build a framework that assists each party in generating the domestic political will that is necessary."
Elliot Diringer says international climate strategies must take national priorities into account. And for poorer countries that means first addressing food security, poverty relief, energy production, and transportation.
"And in that way, integrate climate into the broader development strategies of these countries. And in that sense speaking to their national interest," he added. "Their interest is growing their economy, getting more energy to people who don't have it [and] developing transportation services. If you come in and simply try to impose climate objectives on top of that, you meet a great deal of resistance."
PEW President Eileen Claussen believes that a technological revolution could make it possible to stabilize the global climate. But she warns that the market alone can not deliver technological solutions as quickly as they will be needed. The extra push, she says, must come from governments willing to commit to the climate change issue.
"When and how this happens will depend on a host of factors from public awareness, to electoral politics to the weather," she said. "But, it depends as well on the flexibility and resourcefulness of governments in fashioning common approaches."
Eileen Claussen says even if Kyoto fails to be ratified, the five years of negotiations have brought about significant progress.
"Because you wouldn't see what you are seeing now, whether it is the actions taken on the part of some European governments. Whether it is emissions trading system in Europe or some of the company [emission reduction] targets, some of which have already been met," she said.
And, Ms. Claussen says, the PEW Center report is an effort to continue that discussion, and to look beyond Kyoto with the hope that people will remain committed to the issue of global climate change, no matter what happens with the Kyoto Protocol.