14 October 2007

Should the IPCC receive the Nobel Peace Prize?

Two days ago the Nobel Peace Prize Committee allocated the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 in equal parts to Al Gore and to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "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".

Al Gore has spent a considerable part of his life to make people aware of the consequences of our use of fossil fuels. He did this at a time when general opinion was still against him and he had to suffer taunts and recrimination from many sides. His conviction, courage and determination make him a most suitable candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, which after all should honour those who are prepared to go beyond the normal call of duty in the quest for peace.

But why the IPCC, a scientific panel organized to garner the knowledge of the global scientific community about climate change? International science has many panels and working groups on various unresolved questions of science; the IPCC is just one of them, although admittedly probably the largest. Scientists who work in them or with them are doing their job just as many others. They contribute their knowledge without expecting personal return, but they do that as part of their everyday work. Honouring them with the Nobel Peace Prize should be an acknowledgment of service beyond normal duties, as it undoubtedly is in the case of Al Gore but not in the case of the scientists who contribute to the work of the IPCC. Allocating part of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC cannot be justified through its work; it is a political decision designed to highlight the urgency of tackling global warming.

That global warming has to be tackled urgently is beyond doubt. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee has to be applauded for its decision to bring the issue to everyone's attention again. It could have achieved that by giving the entire prize to Al Gore.

The somewhat skewed decision is not necessarily out of step with the history of the Nobel Peace Prize. Unlike the Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry and Medicine, which are given to indisputably outstanding achievements in science, and the Nobel Prize for Literature, which does contain a subjective element of literary taste but always honours outstanding writers, the Nobel Peace Prize has made some serious mistakes. The allocation of the prize in 1994 to Yasser Arafat, who used violent means to defend the rights of the Palestinian people, and Yitzhak Rabin, a member of the Zionist terrorist organization Haganah that in the 1920s and 1930s assisted the British to suppress Arab uprisings against the occupying forces, could be justified by arguing that the two nominees had repented. But the reason for the allocation of the prize was the signing of the Oslo Accords. These accords led to a Palestinian "Authority" that has become an assistance force for the Jewish occupation and has lost all credibility with the Palestinian population; it can even be argued that the Oslo Accord laid the grounds for the rising importance of the religious-based Hamas. It is questionable whether the Oslo Accord was an instrument of peace or just another step in a continuing violent conflict. Francis Sejersted, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, foreshadowed this in his presentation speech of 1994 already when he noted: "It has been said that the Nobel Committee ought to have waited." It should have done so, indeed.

A real travesty of the idea of a peace prize was its allocation to Henry Kissinger (shared with Le Duc Tho) in 1973 for "arranging the ceasefire" [of the Vietnam conflict] "after negotiating for nearly four years." Kissinger was not only responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths during the bombing campaign that began in 1969 but torpedoed attempts of South and North Vietnam at a peace treaty after the ceasefire was signed and prolonged the war by two years for the sole purpose of strengthening his and Nixon's position in internal American politics. He has been labeled a war criminal in many publications including two books; the fact that he does not dare to take libel action against them proves the accuracy of the accusations. Understandably Le Duc Tho avoided to be on the podium with Kissinger; he refused to accept the prize.

Compared with such aberrations the allocation of the prize to the IPCC is a minor matter. But I still think that it is not the role of a peace prize to honour scientists for work done in the normal course of their duties.


The Nobel Prize decision

On Henry Kissinger

On the role of the Palestinian "Authority"

More information:
Wikipedia entries on Kissinger, the Paris Peace Accords, Yitzhak Rabin, Haganah and others