French President Emmanuel Macron awarded 18 climate change scientists millions of Euros in grants on Dec. 11 as part of his "Make Our Planet Great Again" initiative.
"The selected projects are of very high standards and deal with issues that are particularly important," said the selection jury in a statement.
Additional awards will be announced in early 2018. Up to 50 grants are to be handed out in total, each of which will last for at least three years.
Macron initiated the contest as a direct response to President Donald Trump's June decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris accord on climate change.
"To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland," Macron said on June 1, according to a transcript. "I call on them: come and work here, with us, to work together on concrete solutions for our climate, our environment. I can assure you, France will not give up the fight."
To qualify for the grants, scientists have to be established in the field, have published a thesis and have a plan for a three to five year project to work on in France.
"If we want to prepare for the changes of tomorrow, we need science," the French president told the winners on Dec. 11, the Associated Press reports.
Of the 18 scientists selected, 13 came from the U.S., according to France 24. The jury received a total of 1,822 applications, 1,123 of which came from the U.S.
Some French academics have criticized Macron for offering money to foreign scientists while refusing to provide enough for French researchers.
Winner Camille Parmesan from the University of Texas said Macron's initiative gave her "such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have the head of state saying, 'I value what you do,'" according to AP.
Macron handed out the awards one day ahead of the convening of a climate change conference in Paris. Some 50 world leaders are expected to attend. Trump was not invited.
Macron told Time in November that Trump would receive an invite if he made a statement to confirm he was willing to "join the club" on climate change. However, Trump has failed to respond.
The summit will discuss ways to move beyond fossil fuels and measures required to deal with changes already taking place. It will be co-hosted by the UN and World Bank.