“Convince the Prime Minister to set up the Polar Interministerial Commission” | Polarjournal
The French Polar Institute and Tara sign an agreement to work together in the Arctic. Image: Camille Lin

Yesterday evening saw the conclusion of a strategy meeting for French action in the clusters. There are many players involved, and there is a need for coordination at the highest level, as well as funding and action to stay in the race at international level. The polar challenges are major and are emerging in French policy.

Between the joy of meeting up again and the fear of learning that budgets will be cut, the French polar community was invited to the French National Assembly yesterday afternoon. Representatives from the laboratories most involved in the Arctic, at Crozet, Kerguelen, Amsterdam, Dumont d’Urville and Concordia, were present. Keen to hear the latest news on the implementation of the French Polar Strategy from Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, President Macron’s Ambassador for the Poles, and polar MPs Jimmy Pahun and Clémence Guetté.

One billion euros to support polar science by 2030: a shadow has hung over the President’s statement since last month. Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy, announced 10 billion in cuts to government budgets, including one billion to research. The Chairman of the French Finance Commission, Éric Coquerel, also attended the meeting, which was good news for this polar community, which is little-known in France despite its international influence, which benefits “France’s hegemony”, as David Renaud of the French Polar Institute explained during the presentations.

This is the crux of the problem in these times of budget reshuffling: polar action is struggling to climb back up the ministerial agendas, although the climate emergency and the One Planet Polar Summit have given it a boost. “The President’s commitment must be kept, and we must work in a coherent, concerted way to ensure that polar campaigns continue in the same way. France’s withdrawal would be poorly understood both nationally and internationally”, explains Olivier Poivre d’Arvor.

France’s presence in the poles is motivating for the Ministry of Research, in particular its Director General for Research and Innovation, Claire Giry, whose announcement was eagerly awaited, but who gave no more than the arrival of a “national roadmap”, her “support for polar research”, before recalling that “great public vigilance affects the Ministry” and announcing her “visit next week to the French Polar Institute”, in Brest. The “historic operator” was in the spotlight, recognized as an “indicator of the state of health” of action in the poles by the ambassador, referring to funding. The institute needs to rebuild its oldest station in Antarctica, keep its budget afloat and gain long-term visibility for its funding and activities.

Rendez-vous at the poles

Lack of visibility is the problem. The Macron government is betting on the virtues of programming, but finds itself confronted by the institutional millefeuille, which does not spare the polar region where there are many players. Many universities have research projects there. Defence also contributes to the deployment by providing personnel each year to maintain the bases, and by operating the Terre-Adélie icebreaker. There’s also the prefecture of the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, which administers the sub-Antarctic stations and the Southern Ocean fisheries. Finally, the Marion Dufresne, a sub-Antarctic oceanographic vessel, is part of the fleet of the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer). “There’s a wide range of profiles,” remarks the MP Clémence Guetté, commenting on her visit to Dumont-d’Urville in December and January.

Jimmy Pahun and Clémence Guetté, members of the French parliament’s cross-party working group on France’s polar strategy, visited Antarctica in January. Credit: Jimmy Pahun / Twitter

The rapprochement between the French Polar Institute and Ifremer was discussed, but questions remain: “Beneficial?”, “I don’t think so”, says the ambassador, sharing his thoughts with the audience. These territories are at the heart of diplomatic adjustments between powers. There are many scientific, economic and strategic issues at stake at the poles… “We need to get the various ministries to work around the same table, and convince the Prime Minister [Gabriel Attal, editor’s note] to set up the Polar Interministerial Commission, so that declarations are followed by deeds”, declares Olivier Poivre d’Arvor.

In addition to budgetary issues, MPs are also asking about research priorities. This discussion is underway at the French Polar Institute, which is able to maintain a balance between logistical structure and scientific needs. The deployment of French-style science is at stake: “If we fall too far behind the rest of the world, we run the risk of unhook,” explains David Renaud, head of science at the French Polar Institute. Technical progress is rapid and affects all disciplines, and “polar science is gaining in importance”, he adds. Other private operators are also joining the scene, with the Tara Foundation signing an agreement with the Institute to work on its polar drifting station in the Arctic Ocean, scheduled for 2025.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

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