Nobel Prize for green activist expands award range
Author: Inger Sethov
"You don't give the Nobel chemistry prize to a professor in economics," Carl Hagen, leader of Norway's opposition far-right Progress Party, told Reuters. "A peace prize should honour peace, not the environment."
Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the award, was hailed for helping Africa's poor by organising the planting of tens of millions of trees. It was the first award to an environmentalist since the prize was set up in 1901.
"We have expanded the peace concept to include environmental issues because we believe that a good quality of life on Earth is necessary to promote lasting peace in the world," committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee signalled in 2001 that the Peace Prize, widely considered the world's top accolade of its kind, might in future honour new types of work, like that of environmentalists, rock stars or even journalists.
Maathai founded the Kenya-based Green Belt Movement, which says it has planted 30 million trees across Africa.
Many environmental experts say global warming is the biggest threat to humanity and predict a rise in sea levels, more floods and desertification caused by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Trees soak up carbon dioxide and reduce soil erosion as they grow.
"Understanding is growing throughout the world of the close links between environmental protection and global security," said Klaus Toepfer, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, as he applauded the award to a woman he called "Africa's staunchest defender of the environment".
Researcher Espen Barth Eide at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, who had tipped the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei, said Friday's award could make the Peace Prize less relevant.
"This prize could be positive in expanding the concept of security, but it could also mean a dilution of the prize, moving too far away from the original idea," he told Reuters.
Other Nobel experts raised doubts over whether this year's award was in the spirit of the prize's founder, Alfred Nobel.
His 1895 will says the prize should go to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
The Nobel Committee has often been accused of flouting the spirit of the will. The very first award in 1901 to Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, brought criticism that work to relieve suffering had nothing to do with peace.
Maathai said that work to protect the environment could prevent conflicts. "Many wars in the world are actually fought over natural resources," she told NRK Norwegian radio. "In managing our resources ... we plant the seeds of peace."
"It is possible that the committee wants to tell the world that there is a link between environmental factors and armed conflict, but it fails to explain that," said director Stein Toennesson at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo.