Award ceremony speech

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Presentation Speech by Professor Ole Danbolt Mjøs, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, 10 December 2007.

Presentation speech

Ole Danbolt Mjøs delivering his presentation speech.
Copyright © The Norwegian Nobel Institute 2007
Photo: Ken Opprann

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness, Laureates, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s announcement on the 12th of October of this year’s Peace Prize award opened with the following words: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

I congratulate the IPCC and Al Gore on this year’s Peace Prize!

The Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary World History describes the Nobel Peace Prize as “the world’s most prestigious prize”. The Norwegian Nobel Committee feels a heavy sense of responsibility in selecting a winner for such an honourable prize. The steady increase in the number of nominees also makes the decision harder. Besides, some controversy attaches to this year’s Laureates. Nevertheless, this year’s award decision was not especially difficult. For it is rare for the world to be so concerned with a particular phenomenon or for that phenomenon to have such a decisive impact on our existence on earth. This year a great deal is hinging on global warming. Processes that have been going on for a long time are accelerating. The ice is melting more rapidly in the Arctic, the desert is spreading more quickly in Africa, the glaciers are shrinking in the Himalayas.

In country after country, climate-related issues are moving up the political agenda. The two who, in the opinion of the Nobel Committee, should be given the greatest credit for this development are this year’s Laureates, the IPCC and Al Gore. The IPCC, the United Nations’ climate panel, is a unique body, as its name alone indicates. The climate panel was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). This was a follow-up on the so-called Brundtland Report Our Common Future, which had been submitted the year before and which gave rise to the first wave of discussion of the environment and the climate. On a day like today, Gro Harlem Brundtland also deserves her share of the credit for the advances we have in fact made in our understanding of environmental problems.

Whereas the Brundtland Report was wide-ranging, the IPCC was given a more delimited mandate. The world’s scientists were invited to participate in a continuous process aimed at assessing global climate change with regard to its degree, causes, and consequences, and to counter-measures. Currently over 130 countries are taking part, with 450 authors and 800 contributors, while 2,500 scientific experts take part in the hearings. Governments also take part in the reviews of the reports. The climate panel is, in other words, a quite extraordinary global project.

The U.N. climate panel has arrived at its conclusions through a form of work that is fundamentally innovative. Previous mobilizations of the scientific community have often had moral foundations, for instance in the campaigns against nuclear weapons or for human rights. In the case of the IPCC, it is the United Nations and the nations of the world that have initiated a large-scale and continuous mobilization of the scientific community’s knowledge concerning climate change. Similar procedures to the IPCC’s should be considered as ways of approaching problems also in other fields. Biological diversity, desertification, and over-fishing of the seas have been mentioned.

The IPCC’s very first report, presented in 1990, was to prove very influential, principally in that it became one of the basic documents at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Climate in 1992. The second report, in 1995, laid much of the foundation for the Kyoto Agreement of 1997, which has played such a significant part in the international debate on global warming. For the first time, extensive and coordinated international steps were carried out to counteract global warming. The third report, in 2001, further consolidated the scientific base. Now we have just received the fourth report. When the Nobel Days are over, the Laureates are travelling to Bali, to join the representatives of more than 180 countries in preparing the ground for the agreement which is to replace the Kyoto Agreement with effect from 2012. We wish them good luck. What happens, or does not happen, at Bali will determine our common future.

Some say that the world’s scientists do not all agree in their analyses of human-induced global warming. Things which all the world’s scientists are fully agreed on are few and far between. That is in the nature of research. But there is little doubt about the main trends: more and more scientists have reached ever closer agreement concerning the increasingly dramatic consequences that will follow from global warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming might be viewed as an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence of the real situation. In the last few years, the connections have become much clearer and the consequences still more apparent.

We thank the IPCC for its outstanding scientific work!

While the IPCC has laid the scientific foundations for our knowledge about climate change, Al Gore is in the opinion of the Norwegian Nobel Committee the single individual who has done most to prepare the ground for the political action that is needed to counteract climate change. He is the great communicator. He reaches people all over the world with his message. As early as in the 1970s, as a young member of the House of Representatives, Al Gore organized hearings on emissions of greenhouse gases, then seen as a relatively exotic subject. Many derogatory terms were applied to his commitment, not least in the USA. In 1992, Gore published the book Earth in the Balance, which wound up with a proposal for a global Marshall Plan to save the biosphere. The book became a best-seller in the USA. It showed impressive insight, built on a broad scientific platform, and spoke in a distinctly political and activist tone of voice. Gore was into his stride.

As Vice President, Al Gore signed the Kyoto Agreement, but the Senate opposed United States ratification. After his defeat in the presidential election in 2000, he laid the foundations for a completely new career, as the world’s leading political spokesman on the environment. We know of all his achievements in the last few years, from book, film and concert to distinctions, honour and prizes. Political defeats can also bring good results!

Again and again, Gore has hammered in his message, not least to Americans. The USA is, along with China, the great polluter. But that also entails a responsibility for becoming the leader in emission reduction. No one can charge Gore with lacking concrete guidelines for what individuals can do. An Inconvenient Truth contains sixteen tightly-packed pages of advice on “what you personally can do to help solve the climate crisis”. We all have a responsibility, small countries and large, all mankind, but the heaviest responsibility rests on the rich nations, which to a large extent created global warming. Behind Gore’s total commitment there is unquenchable optimism. He watched the world take up arms against tobacco and achieve a high degree of success, at least in many rich countries. Cancer took his sister’s life. Where tobacco was concerned, too, strong interests had claimed that there was insufficient evidence. No one is in any doubt any longer.

We thank Al Gore for his great courage and unremitting struggle!

There was for a long time great doubt about whether global warming was man-made. Thanks to the IPCC there is very little such doubt today. Then there are those who doubt that there is any connection between the environment and the climate on the one hand and war and conflict on the other. Why have the IPCC and Al Gore been awarded a Nobel Prize for peace?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has always had a broad approach to peace. Its opinion has been that there are many different paths to peace. A number of these paths have been contentious, not so much among ordinary people, who are inclined to believe that any good cause deserves the Peace Prize, as among scholars, whose task it is to study interrelations between phenomena. When the Nobel Committee handed out human rights prizes, scholars queried the connection between democracy and peace. Today they no longer ask. The connection is now regarded as among the most “robust” in modern political science.

The traditional concept of peace and security emphasises war between states. In order to protect all the individuals of which states consist, it is of course important to prevent any attack from outside. But wars between states have become increasingly rare. Wars within states, on the other hand, have grown more frequent. Many more people are killed today in civil wars than in wars between states.

Those who attach importance to “human security” argue that the main thing is to protect individuals. The chief threats may be direct violence, but deaths may also have less direct sources in starvation, disease, or natural disasters. A goal in our modern world must be to maintain “human security” in the broadest sense.

Environmental problems certainly affect human security in this broad sense. When low-lying areas are flooded, their inhabitants will no longer have any form of security. In the words of last year’s Laureate, Muhammad Yunus, “My country Bangladesh is already paying a very high price for global warming and stands to face even greater challenges in the future. As natural calamities intensify year on year, climate change has already become a question of survival”. We can already see how millions of refugees from Bangladesh are creating social and political tensions in India. Melting glaciers, and rivers which first overflow and then have their rate of flow reduced or dry out, mean dramatic changes in people’s everyday lives. In many places, such events are coinciding with rapid increases in population. Such cities as Quito, La Paz and Lima are affected by the melting of glaciers in the Andes; the rivers from the glaciers in the Himalayas supply half of the fresh water needed by 40 per cent of the world’s population. Desertification in China and Africa is threatening vast land areas.

In some parts of the world global warming can be beneficial. We see farming being undertaken in northern regions where it has hitherto been difficult or impossible. Nevertheless, Inuit and Sami people are worried. Sheila Watt-Cloutier has said that this year it was planet earth that got the Peace Prize. The overall effect is negative. In the south the picture is even clearer. The effect will be particularly damaging for those who are already in the greatest difficulty, the weak states and vulnerable people who are least well-equipped to meet the new challenges. They are paying a high price for a problem largely brought about by the wealthy countries to the north.

Unfortunately we can already establish that global warming not only has negative consequences for “human security”, but can also fuel violence and conflict within and between states. It can be argued that the melt-down in the Arctic is giving a sharper edge to the new series of sovereignty claims that we are seeing in this northernmost part of the world. The consequences are most obvious, however, among the poorest of the poor, in Darfur and in large sectors of the Sahel belt, where we have already had the first “climate war”. The wind that blows the sand off the Sahara sets people and camels moving towards more fertile areas. The outcome is that nomads and peasants, Arabs and Africans, Christians and Muslims from many different tribes clash in a series of conflicts. There are many dimensions to this, but it is growing increasingly obvious that desertification is a central underlying factor. The pattern from Darfur has now spread to Chad and the Central African Republic. Large parts of the Sahel belt, from the Sudan to Senegal, are coming under threat.

It is not only the Norwegian Nobel Committee that sees interrelations between nature and the environment, war and conflict. So does the UN Security Council. In April this year, on Britain’s initiative, the Security Council held its first debate on the effect of climate on war and conflict. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, said in his careful way that “when resources are scarce – whether energy, water or arable land – our fragile ecosystems become strained, as do the coping mechanisms of groups and individuals. This can lead to a breakdown of established codes of conduct, and even outright conflict”. Climate and the environment have thus become one of the threats “to international peace and security” which the UN Security Council is meant to deal with. A committee of prominent American military officers recently stated that climate changes are “a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world”.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee rarely raises its voice. Our style is largely sober. But it is a long time since the committee was concerned with such fundamental questions as this year. Desmond Tutu, Peace Prize Laureate in 1984, put it as follows in Tromsø’s Arctic Cathedral in connection with World Environment Day on the 5th of June: “To ignore the challenge of global warming may be criminal. It certainly is disobeying God. It is sin. The future of our fragile, beautiful planet is in our hands. We are stewards of God’s creation”.

We congratulate the IPCC and Al Gore on receiving this year’s Peace Prize. We thank you for what you have done for mother earth, and wish you further success in a task that is so vital to us all. Action is needed now. Climate changes are already moving beyond human control.

Thank you for your attention.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2007

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