Published online 17 June 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.579

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Italy cancels G8 research meeting

Scrapped ministerial summit may jeopardize pressing climate change decisions.

Silvio BerlusconiSilvio Berlusconi.Associated Press

The Italian government has caught scientists off-guard by unexpectedly, and mysteriously, cancelling the G8 science and technology meeting planned for next week.

The meeting was planned for 25-28 June. It would have brought together science ministers of the rich G8 nations to discuss issues of long-term and global concern, such as how to monitor climate change, maintain environment-friendly energy supplies and how to deal with the ageing society.

It was one of nine ministerial meetings to prepare for the main G8 summit, this year under Italian presidency, in L'Aquila in July. The summit is now left without a formal mechanism for introducing science input.

"We were surprised and disappointed by the cancellation," says James Wilsdon, director of the science policy for Britain's Royal Society. The society is one of 13 national academies — including one from each of the G8 countries, plus one each from South Africa, India, Mexico, China and Brazil — that had prepared a joint statement on climate and energy policy to funnel through the meeting. The meeting was particularly important, he said, given the United Nations decision-making climate summit in Copenhagen in December.

Loss of credibility

The Italian government gave no clear reason for the cancellation, and it is the first time a planned ministerial meeting has been cancelled in advance of a G8 summit. Italian newspapers have said that government officials are referring variously to concerns about security, and failure to complete translation of relevant preparatory documents.

“We were surprised and disappointed by the cancellation.”

James Wilsdon
The Royal Society

Giuseppe Fioroni, science spokesman for Italy's opposition Democratic Party, says that the cancellation — which he puts down to infighting in different government ministries over the core themes of the research G8 — is "humiliating for Italy as the host country". He says that a research G8 has meaning only if it is held before the summit. "The failure of [research minister Mariastella Gelmini] to carry out her responsibilities ... means a further loss of credibility among our international partners."

The Ministry of Education, Universities and Research did not answer calls or respond to e-mails from Nature News.

Deplorable decision

The 13 academies met in Rome in March to knock out a joint statement on climate and energy that emphasises a common belief in the need to reduce carbon emissions while developing environment-friendly energy sources, including safe nuclear sources, and to ensure basic energy services to all countries.

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"It is a missed opportunity to have a strong science discussion at the summit," says Wilsdon, "and one which shows the agreement of scientists in both developed and developing countries."

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a member of the Germany Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research was one of the driving forces behind the joint statement. "It is never good to cancel or even delay a meeting," he says, "but deplorable to do so when there is a decisive international climate conference planned at the end of this year."

But the German research ministry was more sanguine. An official there said that they had been told that the meeting would be reconvened in some form during autumn. "It is always good when G8 ministers meet," he said. "It does not have to be before a summit." 

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