Eighteen climate scientists from the U.S. and elsewhere hit the jackpot Monday as French President Emmanuel Macron awarded them millions of euros in grants to relocate to France for the rest of Donald Trump's presidential term.
The "Make Our Planet Great Again" grants — a nod to Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan — are part of Macron's efforts to counter Trump on the climate change front. Macron announced a contest for the projects in June, hours after Trump declared he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.
More than 5,000 people from about 100 countries expressed interest in the grants. A majority of the applicants — and 13 of the 18 winners — were U.S.-based researchers.
"We will be there to replace" U.S. financing of climate research, Macron told the winners in Paris on Monday.
"If we want to prepare for the changes of tomorrow, we need science," he said, promising to put in place a global climate change monitoring system among other climate innovations.
It is a dream come true for U.S.-based climate scientists, say winners Camille Parmesan and British scientist Benjamin Sanderson.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Parmesan expressed elation at the prospect of spending the next five years doing her research in France instead of the United States.
Macron's appeal "gave me such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have the head of state saying I value what you do," said Parmesan, of the University of Texas at Austin.
"[Trump] very, very rapidly has been actively trying to erode science in the U.S.A. and in particular climate science," she said. "And it's hard for two reasons: Funding is becoming almost impossible, and in a psychological sense."
Parmesan, who said she is looking forward to improving her French, will be working at an experimental ecology station in the Pyrenees mountains on how human-made climate change is affecting wildlife.
Sanderson, who also worked in the U.S. on climate risks, told the AP that he found it "very reassuring" that France is "openly encouraging climate research."
He said his application was motivated by "the fact that France is making a stand on prioritizing climate change research, but also it's increasingly hard to get research funding in the U.S."
For the next few years, Sanderson will be living in Toulouse, in southern France, where the country's national meteorological service is based.
Initially aimed at American researchers, the research grants were expanded to other non-French climate scientists, according to organizers. Candidates need to be known for working on climate issues, have completed a thesis and propose a project that would take between three to five years.
French officials have not revealed the value of the grants, but said the amount varies by project. Senior researchers were eligible for awards of up to 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million), the president's office said.
Monday's event is a prelude to a bigger climate summit Tuesday aimed at giving new impetus to the Paris accord and finding new funding to help governments and businesses meet its goals.
More than 50 world leaders are expected in Paris for the "One Planet Summit," co-hosted by the U.N. and the World Bank. Trump was not invited.
Other attendees include Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took a spin on a Parisian electric bike Monday to call attention to health problems caused by pollution.
The Hollywood star and former California governor argued that Trump's rejection of the Paris climate accord doesn't matter, because companies, scientists and other governments can "pick up the slack" to reduce global emissions.
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