FROM TRACEY ELLIOT, HEAD OF INTERNATIONAL
I am just back from the annual meeting of the G8+5 science academies, hosted spectacularly this year by the Académie des Sciences in Paris.
We meet with our G8 counterparts as well as China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico every year to collectively draft joint statements on issues of relevance to the G8 Summit. While China was unable to make it this year, our French colleagues had invited Senegal as special guests (a privilege of the Presidency).
This year, the Académie des Sciences discussed the G8 agenda with the French Government and identified ‘Water and health’ and ‘Education for a science-based global development’ as the subjects of our joint statements. Over two long days we deliberated the drafts of these statements, working line-by-line through their content. Drafting by consensus is not easy: it requires patience and diplomacy on all sides. The inevitable compromise can be frustrating to those involved but the process is strangely carthartic. By the end of it, there is a genuine collective ownership of the statements.
For some of our partner academies, this process is critical in helping them to engage their respective Governments in an informed dialogue. As such, it serves an important capacity building function, helping academies raise their profile nationally. For others, it is a useful way to catch up with G8 +5 colleagues on wide-ranging issues and participate in a useful process of cooperation and consensus.
When it works, the statements can directly inform and help shape G8 political discussions and the resulting communiqués, as they have done – notably in 2005, 2008 and 2010 – on issues such as climate change, science for development, infectious disease and maternal and child health. The joint statements are available via our policy publication archive.
The outlook this year is promising: the Académie, led by its new President, Alain Carpentier, enjoys a close relationship with its government – as witnessed by the personal engagement of its Minister for Higher Education and Research, Valérie Pécresse, and even President Sarkozy himself, who generously put on a reception for us at the Palais de l’Elysée.
Whether the G8 process is the most effective policy instrument for interacademy cooperation is perhaps a moot point, but these meetings do help build camaraderie among the science academy community as well as a better understanding of the policy-making process. We look to our US colleagues to decide how to work with the G8 meeting during their presidency in 2012.