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An Inconvenient Nobel Truth

It is doubtful if the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change went to the right awardees at the right time. There has been no tangible progress in tackling climate change. Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth promotes market-based solutions instead of sustainable ones and the global negotiations have not resulted in a consensus on national responsibilities and commitments.


An Inconvenient Nobel Truth

Michael Koeberlein, Sachin Joshi

acknowledge this fact now, rather than to honour a momentum, which still has to clear so many hurdles to reach any mutual consent. And it is also time to admit this lack of mutual consent about global jus-

It is doubtful if the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change went to the right awardees at the right time. There has been no tangible progress in tackling climate change. Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth promotes market-based solutions instead of sustainable ones and the global negotiations have not resulted in a consensus on national responsibilities and commitments.

hen people speculate about the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, they think of human rights activists, charismatic politicians, statesmen or peace activists but hardly ever do they think of environmentalists. Therefore, the Nobel Committee’s decision to award Al Gore and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with the Nobel Peace Prize appears puzzling. Considering the detrimental effects of rapid climate change (which this year’s IPCC reports have scientifically proven), the committee seems to have broadened its definition of peace and security. It has acted quite sensibly in awarding the achievement of pitchforking the most challenging global issue onto the political mainstream agenda as well as into the consciousness of the common man. However, assuming the Nobel Peace Prize to be an award for extraordinary political feats, this year’s selection rewarded the momentum of current international political affairs rather than the political achievements of the awardees.

Questionable Decision From the perspective of human rights or development, the decision of the Nobel Committee is somewhat questionable. Did it award the right person or institution and was the timing right in selecting to promote a new definition of climate policy as an active peace policy while the real cha llenges still remain to be mastered? For instance, when assessing the international climate change negotiations, we have to admit that there is still no global conse nsus on practical and effective policies in sight, which efficiently and equitably tackle the comprehensiveness of the problems. On the contrary, national commit ments and the common acceptance of national responsibilities for countering the adverse effects of climate change are far off, with each negotiating bloc focused on passing the costs and liabil ities for solving the climate crisis onto the other. The international negotiations as a whole have reached an impasse, and it is time to tice, joint burden sharing and equitable development opportunities for all, which are at the centre of the impasse in the current climate change negotiations.

The awarding of the prize for 2007 to Al Gore demonstrates again how fragmented and superficial human society is, parti cularly on global issues such as climate change, which apparently threatens virtually all forms of life on earth. Much of the animadversion, which has emerged since the announcement, is not only from the American anti-Gore camps, but also from political leaders from the south, anti-global warming groups and industrial lobbies; a fact which is enough evidence to indicate that Al Gore as a political leader and IPCC as UN’s scientific body on global warming are far from creating a general consensus on climate change, nor are they the actors who will ensure with their achievements and politics a peaceful existence for mankind for many years to come.

Jan Egeland, a Norwegian former senior UN official for humanitarian affairs, resolutely defended the decision of his countrymen, who decided that IPCC’s and Al Gore’s work on climate change had “reduced a threat to the security of mankind”. He publicly expressed that, “It is a question of war and peace. We’re already seeing the first climate wars in the Sahel belt of Africa.” This statement again attests to human myopia as well as scientific in correctness, and additionally forwards an erroneous message to the international community. First, there is no scientific evidence that the conflicts in the Sahel belt are categorically influenced by climate change and there are no political, economic and historical causes similarly to be blamed. Second, raising awareness among the political and other “elite” or the “advantaged” classes of the world, does not necessarily reduce the threat of global climate change or bring about inter national consensus or even restore peace anywhere in the world. This is simply not a cause-effect relation.

Wars, in the first place, have nothing to do with climate change and conflicts are traditionally not caused by those people

Economic & Political Weekly november 3, 2007


most vulnerable to climate-induced changes. Instead, countries and their people are pushed into wars by their leaders and political elites. Historically, these leaders have been monarchs of some kind or dictators, or some even president of the US. Al Gore’s “elite” audience then again is not the one which is vulnerable to climateinduced changes and does not understand the factual burden of global warming. The really vulnerable are those already living on the edge, those who are excluded from various political practices and processes, and hoodwinked in the way that national mitigation and adaptation policies are presently drafted or implemented.

Hypocritical Approach While Al Gore’s admonition to others is to do as he preaches rather than practices, his film is anything other than opportunistic and illusory. The real inconvenient truth is his and his people’s massive carbon footprint, which exceeds that of the poorest communities in the under-industrialised parts of the world far and away. A thoughtful look at An Inconvenient Truth moreover reveals that the under lying message of the film is to promote low carbon emission lifestyle based on new technologies, profit-making and the use of alternate energy sources. The audiences are persuaded about a potential secure future for their children and children’s children by adapting to his practices and principles. In a way, it is also a naïve belief in market forces and a promise to a wide range of businesses to profit more and remain secure. However, the solutions to climate change cannot be left entirely to the market system or an artificial carbon market, which is infested with vested interests.

Mere market approaches are neither sustainable nor target-oriented especially since adaptation to climate change has very little to do with market solutions or technical advancement. Adaptation in an honest sense means promoting human development and social justice amongst those most affected while concurrently tackling the detrimental effects of global warming. As much as it is a moral, poli tical, social and an environmental issue, climate change is all about sustainability, a decent lifestyle, an adjustment of the ecosystems, and a unification of varying interests.

However, little thought seems to have been given by the Nobel Prize Committee to this rationale. Furthermore, the deliberations on the right choice of awardees have in principle failed to highlight the fundamental injustice caused by polluters that have damaged the global ecosystems held in common, and the detrimental effects of uncurbed development of the industrialised countries on some of the poorest countries and communities. Al Gore also generally considers it to be inappropriate to think of compensation being paid for such devastation and tends to avoid taking the historical responsibility of the industrialised countries into consideration. The affluent consumers of the world, who are increasingly encroaching upon the developing countries, have caused and still carry on causing destruction to others, typically much poorer and less privileged than themselves. Undoubtedly, then, responsible and advanced countries should admit their liability and provide the means to make it easier for their disadvantaged fellow world-citizens in the global south to adapt to the, in many cases irrevocable, changes the earth is facing. Moreover, it is necessary that such means of support and burden sharing are built into an agenda for “2012-plus”, the agreement that will soon be negotiated in Bali as the succession of the Kyoto treaty.

The Nobel Peace Prize in the end says a lot about the politics of those who award the prize. The motivation behind the committee’s decision is less about future gazing and more about making an unequivocal statement ahead of the UN climate change conference in Bali this December. It is meant to stress the importance of the Bali negotiations for the people of today, but more important for future generations. However, what the global debate and the international negotiations most significantly need now are not further awareness campaigns, enhanced consciousness amongst the people or more movies and awards, but the appearance of sagacious politicians and spirited leaders, who make good use of the momentum and convert the consolidated findings of the IPCC into visionary but applicable and effective policies. Addi tionally, it has to be acknowledged that proficient and creative facilitators as well as foresighted and authoritative conciliators must to be sent to Bali who will negotiate appropriate commitments and a fair burden sharing of all concerned stakeholders and countries, and will push the concepts of peace and justice into the mainstream of the global climate change debate.


november 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly

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