Spotlight on: French National Centre for Scientific Research and the French National Research Institute for Agriculture

Spotlight on: French National Centre for Scientific Research and the French National Research Institute for Agriculture

Climate change research in France is highly advanced on international standards. Most notably, the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) is one of the world’s largest contributors to leading publications in Earth and environmental sciences. The most important CNRS sections from the perspective of climate change research are the National Institute for Earth Sciences and Astronomy (INSU) and the Institute of Ecology and Environment (INEE). Of these, the INSU employs around 8,000 people; INEE’s figures are not available. Each institute is tasked with carrying out and coordinating scientific research within their respective domains. The CNRS is a public institution funded by the French government and has a budget of some €3.4 billion in total.

Another global forerunner in climate change research France is the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE). INRAE was formed in 2020 through a merger of the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA, the top-ranked agricultural research institute in Europe) and the National Research Institute of Science and Technology for the Environment and Agriculture (IRSTEA). Employing some 11,500 staff, INRAE’s research is focused on six major domains: climate change and risks; agroecology; biodiversity; food and global health; bioeconomy; and society and regional strategies. Within these fields, INRAE aims to “use research, innovation, and support for public policies as tools to guide the emergence of sustainable agricultural and food production systems”. Like the CNRS, INRAE is publicly funded, with a budget of €1 billion.

The CNRS and the INRAE carry out research both nationally and as part of international research consortia. One example of an outcome of international collaboration is an article recently published in the science journal Nature Geoscience in June 2020. The study, entitled ‘Observed changes in dry-season water availability attributed to human-induced climate change’, was the first one to prove at a global scale the connection between human-induced climate change and the availability of water during dry seasons. The research team used models and observation data to evaluate water availability across the globe in 1902-2014. In this period, the Earth’s average temperature increased by approximately 1 °C. The results show that in the last three decades, some regions in the world have seen increased and others decreased availability of water in the driest month of the year; for example, in Europe, western North America, northern Asia, southern South America, Australia, and eastern Africa, dry seasons have become increasingly dry. The findings are consistent with existing climate change models and inconsistent with natural climate variability.

An example of INRAE’s recent research is the article ‘Tree Diversity and Forest Resistance to Insect Pests: Patterns, Mechanisms and Prospects’, published in The Annual Review of Entomology in September 2020. In this study, researchers from INRAE and the Spanish Biological Mission of Galicia (CSIC) analysed data from over 600 case studies published in 1966-2019 to explore how tree diversity affects forest resistance to insect pests. The research is important from a climate change perspective, because with the warmer climate insects are causing increasing damage to forests in Europe and in other temperate regions. The findings indicate that mixed forests composed of multiple tree species are up to 20% more resilient against insect pest damage as compared to monocultural forests. This supports the development of best practices for forest management in the years to come.

The government of President Emmanuel Macron is generally amenable towards science in general and climate change research in particular. A notable act was when, in June 2017, President Macron announced the new “Make Our Planet Great Again” initiative to compensate for the climate research funding withdrawn by the US President Donald Trump. The initiative called for foreign scientists, especially American ones, to join the French effort against climate change. The government offered around 50 new research grants worth between €1 million and €1.5 million each, attracting a significant number of high-quality international applications. At the same time, many French climate scientists were critical of the initiative, arguing that France already has a large pool of competent researchers whose research lacks funding.

Thus, while France’s research efforts on climate change are outstanding globally, there are concerns about long-term sustainability of research funding. Furthermore, excellent science does not necessarily translate into effective policy. Even with the most benevolent of governments, implementing best practices identified by research requires much time and effort.

Activity rating: **** Moving Forward

French research on climate change is among the foremost in the world. However, the sustainability of funding is not secured, and implementation of policies guided by scientific results is slow.

Take Action

Write to Mr. Antoine Petit, Chair and CEO of CNRS, and Mr. Philippe Mauguin, Chair and CEO of INRAE.

Dear Mr. Chairman,

Climate Scorecard admires the global scientific leadership France holds in the field of climate change research. Institutions such as the CNRS and the INRAE are at the forefront of promoting our common knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of climate change, as well as of developing solutions to mitigate the crisis. We give our wholehearted support to the important work you are carrying out, and stand behind any demands for sustainable financing for climate change research. We furthermore appreciate the high level of policy relevance of your work and wish you all the best in any outreach activities seeking to influence policy for the best of the climate.

With our respectful and best regards,

[sign name]

Send Action Alert Message to:

CNRS, Le conseil d’administration:


This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard France Country Manager Anna Savolainen

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