Climate, War and the Nobel Peace Prize
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former US Vice-President Al Gore have been announced as the joint winners of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. They have certainly made a commendable effort in the field, but how does climate change affect the chance for peace?
The Nobel Foundation
Prizes for efforts and achievements in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace, along with an additional prize for Economics, are awarded every year by the Swedish-based Nobel Foundation. The prizes are regarded as the most prestigious in their respective fields, with the winners receiving £750,000 cash, a medal and a diploma. Previous winners of the Nobel Peace Prize include Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which is a part of the UN, and Al Gore share the 2007 prize "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".
Conflict and Resources
Many wars and times of heightened tension have resulted solely, or in part, from a lack of basic resources. If a group of people do not have enough of what they need, but a neighbouring group have more than they need, it is easy to see why the disadvantaged group may decide to take what they need from the other group, purely out of desperation. A fight for resources such as agricultural land, fresh water, coastline, minerals and strategically important areas to help protect these resources is an obvious reason for conflict.
It is no surprise that some of the most volatile regions are those that contain vast mineral wealth such as oil, natural gas and uranium. The Middle East, the Northern end of South America, Ex-Soviet States and parts of Central Africa are candidates for such conflict.
Conflict in places such as Darfur, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda and previously in Rwanda and Burundi are severely exacerbated by a lack of food and clean drinking water. It is all too easy to blame a neighbouring group for the plight of your own group. The holocaust is probably the worst example of this phenomenon.
How does Climate Change create conflict?
Climate change is expected to have a number of devastating consequences for billions people. Changes in rainfall patterns can create even more extreme flooding and drought. Rising sea levels can create coastal erosion, changes in marine life, reduce (or totally eliminate) the land area of a nation and flood coastal cities. Melting of mountain glaciers will flood populated areas downstream and, when the ice has gone, cut off their water supply permanently. Melting of permafrost in mountainous areas is already causing huge landslides and rock fall.
In short, climate change could make basic resources even scarcer and increase incidents of certain natural disasters.
Do Climate Campaigners Improve the Chance for Peace?
A move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy will ultimately make energy extremely cheap, abundant and not concentrated to a handful of countries. Every country has a certain amount of sunlight, wind and biomass. Many countries have coastlines, with waves battering the shores and tidal forces at work. Most countries have rivers and fast flowing streams. Some countries have geothermal and other renewable resources.
Every country could meet their own energy needs many times over purely through renewable energy, should they wish to. This would remove the need to fight over oil and uranium. A climate change campaigner works to make this happen.
Furthermore, if renewable energy were used extensively across the planet, carbon dioxide emissions would be greatly reduced. This would reduce the change in the climate and, therefore, reduce negative effects of climate change such as flooding and drought. This further relieves tension in the areas affected, improving the chance for peace. A climate change campaigner works to make this happen, too.
So does a climate change campaigner also, by default, campaign for peace? The answer is a resounding "Yes!". Both Al Gore and the IPCC deserve recognition for their efforts and would certainly be deserving of consideration for a peace prize. Whether you believe they actually deserve to win the Nobel Peace Prize is for you to decide, but it has highlighted an important link between climate, energy and conflict.