One year later, overview of the "Make Our Planet Great Again" initiative in the United States

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Following the announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement by American President Donald Trump on June 1, 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron invited researchers, entrepreneurs, students, associations and NGOs from the United States and around the world to come together and join France in the fight against global warming to help "Make Our Planet Great Again". Following this announcement, the Embassy of France in the United States increased its efforts to foster transatlantic cooperation and mobility in environmental and climate sciences.

A strong resonance in the United States

The "Make Our Planet Great Again" (MOPGA) announcement had a strong resonance around the world, particularly in the United States. Among the 1,800 formal applications received from students and researchers on the online platform makeourplanetgreatagain.fr, 1,100 came from the United States. In order to implement the MOPGA initiative in the United States, the Embassy of France received exceptional funding from the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. This exceptional budget served to strengthen French-American collaborations according to three areas of focus:

  • Increase transatlantic student mobility
  • Enhance joint research projects
  • Develop new cooperations with prestigious partners

Focus 1: Increase transatlantic student mobility

The Office for Science and Technology and the Cultural Services of the Embassy of France run several mobility programs for students. With exceptional funding received by way of MOPGA, the Embassy was able to offer additional grants to students working on MOPGA subjects: earth system sciences, climate change and sustainable development, energy transition.

Allow more American Ph.D. students to conduct research in France with the Chateaubriand Fellowship Program

The Chateaubriand Fellowship Program financially supports outstanding doctoral students from American universities who wish to conduct research stays in France over a period of 4 to 9 months. This program is divided into two sections: a fellowship program in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and biology/health) managed by the Office for Science and Technology, and a fellowship program in HSS (humanities and social sciences), managed by the Cultural Services. Every year, around 40 STEM fellowships and 20 HSS fellowships are awarded. In 2018, 32 additional fellowships were awarded in STEM and 6 in HSS for MOPGA related subjects. Learn more about the experience of Chateaubriand Fellow Theresa Oehmke, welcomed on stage by President Macron during the One Planet Summit.

Theresa Oehmke (first on the left), MOPGA Chateaubriand Fellow, on stage with President Macron at One Planet Summit
The FADEx program: a special edition on oceans (FADEx-O) as part of MOPGA

In May 2018, about ten French doctoral students studying oceanography were invited to the United States for a one week seminar in two symbolic locations of American oceanographic research: Oregon State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography (a division of the University of California at San Diego). A few months earlier, in October 2017, about ten American doctoral students went to France to visit the main national oceanographic research centers. These seminars are a part of the FADEX (French American Doctoral Exchange) program that the Office for Science and Technology has offered since 2014 to promote scientific exchanges between French and American doctoral students working on the same scientific subjects.

French Ph.D. students dive into the best of American research on oceanography
A summer school to present a green, sustainable Paris to community college students

In June 2018, the Embassy of France and the network of n+i engineering schools accompanied about ten environmental studies students from American community colleges to France. Over the course of the ten-day program, the students benefited from professional, scientific, and cultural visits relating to green, sustainable development in the French capital. An opportunity to give a "taste of France" and to present a green, sustainable Paris to students who do not usually have access to classic mobility programs. Watch the video about last year’s summer school.

Students from US community colleges explore a green, sustainable Paris
Supporting academic mobility projects relating to the climate with the Benjamin Franklin Scholarship

Offered by the Cultural Services of the Embassy, the Benjamin Franklin scholarships are allocated to undergraduate students pursuing a double major (French and another subject). In 2018, 12 additional scholarships were allocated to students studying environmental science and climate sciences.

Focus 2: Enhance joint research projects

The Office for Science and Technology and the Cultural Services of the Embassy of France run several cooperation programs in order to financially support researchers hoping to collaborate with a French team. These programs were enhanced with the implementation of additional funding for applications relating to MOPGA subjects.

The Thomas Jefferson Fund: support innovative projects among young, promising researchers

The Thomas Jefferson Fund supports the creation of new, innovative research projects among junior French and American researchers. 20 000 dollars’ worth of grants allow the laureates’ projects to be supported for 2 years. Every year, around 7 grants are available in STEM, HSS and the interface between science and society. In 2018, 20 additional grants were set up to support projects related to MOPGA subjects.

Contribute to the bilateral funds with partner universities

The bilateral funds are endowment funds created by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs with some of the biggest American universities in order to finance the development of transatlantic partnerships. Every year, a call for projects is made to finance mobility projects between the United States and France or for collaborative projects between researchers from partner universities and French researchers. As part of the MOPGA initiative in 2018, exceptional finances were made available to 3 bilateral funds to support additional projects relating to environmental subjects:

  • France-Chicago Fund: one research project on "Statistical data fusion for large heterogeneous datasets" with applications for climate and weather studies;
  • France-Stanford Fund: one research project on "Simulating Turbulent Mixing in the Abyssal Waters of the Equatorial Pacific Ocean" and one mobility grant on "The Oxygen Overshoot: A Better Understanding of the Evolution of Oxygen";
  • France-Berkeley Fund: two research projects on "The Social Life of the Sediment Balance: A Social and Geomorphic Approach to the Transformation of River Systems and Deltas" and "Reconciling critical controversies in Plant Hydraulics" and one conference project on "Electric Vehicle Deployment for Urban Residents: Policy and Lessons Learned between France and California".

In addition, France established a new bilateral fund with the University of Texas at Austin. In anticipation of the fund’s actual launch in 2019, two projects relating to MOPGA subjects were supported in 2018:

  • A collaborative research project between a UT Austin researcher and a French researcher on "Leaf and wood dimensions: Understanding tropical forest diversity by integrating data and mechanistic models";
  • The "Planet Texas 2050" initiative launched by UT Austin to create a network of researchers around urgent social and environmental issues Texas faces.
Encourage HSS projects on climate issues from the Centers of Excellence

The network of 20 Centers of Excellence, managed by the Cultural Services, brings together top ranked universities that have a strong international presence and are involved in the spread and promotion of French higher education. In 2018, two research projects in human and social sciences (HSS) relating to MOPGA subjects were financed.

Focus 3: Develop new cooperations with prestigious partners

As part of the MOPGA initiative, the Embassy of France supports the implementation of high-level collaborations between French and American research teams notably recognized in their field. The financial and logistical support of the Embassy allows for these collaborations to be officially instituted and structured in the long term, particularly through the organization of scientific meetings and workshops.

France-US workshop on sargassum in Galveston

On January 17-19, 2018, the Galveston Campus of Texas A&M University hosted the first France-US workshop on sargassum. Sargassum, a seaweed often found in the Atlantic Ocean, often washes up in large quantities on beaches on both sides of the Atlantic and negatively impacts coastal cities such as Galveston, the Lesser Antilles and French Guinea. The workshop was organized within the FACT-O program (French American Climate Talks on Ocean), which was initiated a few years ago by the Office for Science and Technology in order to coordinate French-American initiatives on ocean-related issues and to disseminate knowledge to the general public.

Fostering collaboration between the French and American sargassum scientific communities
High-level collaboration on climate science between MIT and France

The biggest researchers in climate science from MIT and France gathered in Paris in May 2018 to launch a high-level collaboration: the "France-MIT Climate Program." This initiative is led by Professor Hervé Le Treut, director of the Institute Pierre Simon Laplace (IPSL), for France and by Professor Ronald Prinn for MIT. The inaugural workshop laid the foundation for this collaboration centered around a few targeted scientific subjects, in the presence of representatives from the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE) and the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI). A second workshop will take place in November 2018.

From left to right: Member of Parliament Amélie de Montchalin, Jean-Philippe Bourgoin (MESRI), Laurence Auer (MEAE), Pr. Ronald Prinn (MIT) and Pr. Hervé Le Treut (IPSL)
French-American workshop organized at Harvard to examine the data collected by the Tara Oceans boat

At the time of the stopover of the Tara Oceans boat in Boston, a French-American workshop will be organized at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University in October 2018. This workshop will reunite researchers of Tara Oceans, Harvard, and other universities in the region in order to explore the potential usage of the data collected by the schooner Tara Oceans to better understand the ocean.

Scientific workshop in Brest on the identification of important marine mammal habitat areas in the southern ocean region

The Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force and its partners will organize a workshop in Brest, France in October 2018 on the identification of important marine mammal habitat areas in the southern ocean region. The Embassy of France will support the participation of US researchers at this workshop.

A future annual conference on the green design of soft materials

A scientific workshop on the making and design of green materials will take place in Boston in November 2018. Its goal is to bring to MIT the main players in soft matter materials research, and it will be the prefiguring event for a future annual meeting about the design of soft materials and their environmental impact. This project is driven by three departments at MIT and the international joint unit (MSE² - MultiScale Materials Science for Energy and the Environment) established between CNRS, Aix Marseille University and MIT.

Promoting innovation and outreach activities

In addition to its efforts to foster student mobility and collaborations between French and American researchers, the Office for Science and Technology organizes conferences and events to promote French expertise and innovation and raise public awareness on various scientific and technological issues. In the context of MOPGA, environmental issues were highlighted.

French American Innovation Day on wind energy

The Office for Science and Technology will organize a daylong conference on wind energy in Boston in February 2019 in order to foster technology and industry connections between France and the United States and to promote the excellence of French institutions and companies working in this field. The French American Innovation Days are organized on a regular basis by the Office for Science and Technology to bring together the most prominent French and American experts to discuss innovation on specific topics.

The Office for Science and Technology organized the screening of the French documentary "A Frontier in the Jungle" on July 2, 2018 at the Embassy of France in Washington, DC. The documentary recounts the expedition undertaken by three scientists in the dense rainforest on the border of Brazil and French Guiana. The scientist who inspired the project and prepared the expedition is François-Michel Le Tourneau, deputy-director of a CNRS joint research unit located at the University of Arizona in Tucson. After the screening, a panel discussion took place with M. Le Tourneau and the US Science Envoy on the preservation of biodiversity and wildlife.

During the European Climate Diplomacy Week, the Office for Science and Technology organized the screening of the French documentary "Planet Ice - Greenland, a Journey under the Ice" in Atlanta in September 2018. The film follows a team of scientists trying to understand how pack ice is changing and disappearing, illustrating the impact of climate change on the melting ice in Greenland. Following the screening, Professor Ala Khazendar, glaciologist and researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), presented current research in the field.

Other players implementing the MOPGA initiative

Apart from the Embassy of France in the United States, other French players contributed to the implementation of the MOPGA initiative toward American and international students and researchers:

  • Campus France, the French agency for the promotion of higher education and international mobility, opened four mobility programs in the spring of 2018 for international students and researchers working on MOPGA related subjects. These programs targeted students hoping to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D. in France, Ph.D. students looking for a postdoctoral research contract in France, and researchers and doctoral students hoping to carry out a short research stay at a French institution.
  • The French National Research Agency (ANR) and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) processed applications for long-term research stays coming from the United States and the rest of the world. Preselected researchers applied during one of the two sessions for the call for proposals (October 2017 or January 2018) to work with a French laboratory for 3 to 5 years. Selected researchers received 1.5M€ in funding (1M€ for junior researchers), half coming from the French government and half from the host institution. The French President Emmanuel Macron announced the names of the first 18 researchers selected (13 of them being from the United States) during the One Planet Summit in Paris in December 2017. In May 2018, the names of the 14 researchers selected in the second session were announced (5 of them being from the United States). A new call for proposals opened in April 2018. New laureates should be announced in December 2018.
Professors V. Balaji and C. Cantrell, laureates of the CNRS/ANR call for proposals, together with President Macron during his state visit in Washington

Download the booklet summarizing the actions implemented by the Embassy of France in the United States as part of the "Make Our Planet Great Again’ initiative: in French and in English.

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