Science, Civil Society, and the Nobel Peace Prize
Today Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. You can read the Nobel Committee’s presentation speech here, Al Gore’s Nobel Lecture here, and the IPCC’s Nobel Lecture here.
A few quick thoughts on the award. First, scientists have become increasingly common recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. A few scientists, such as the 1949 prize to Lord Orr and the 1970 prize to Norman Borlaug, have been honored for innovative technology that reduces poverty and promotes agriculture efforts in developing countries. At least one scientist, Andrei Sakharov, was honored in 1975 primarily for his role as a political dissident and human rights advocate in the Soviet Union.
But beginning in 1962 with the award to Linus Pauling, the Nobel Committee advanced a new strategy for promoting international norms. The strategy recognized the general public’s inability to fully grasp the danger of certain threats, such as nuclear fallout or global warming. The typical laureate could do little to credibly explain the nature of that risk. But by honoring world-renown scientists, the Nobel Committee could ratify a scientific voice of indisputable authority to highlight to the world the precise nature of the risk. Pauling thus constituted a new breed of laureate: the scientist as a prophet of doom. By enlisting this epistemic community of technical experts, the Nobel Committee hoped to sway public opinion regarding the perils that lay before them. It is an approach the Nobel Committee would adopt again in 1985 with the award to the IPPNW, and in 1995 with the award to Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conference.
It is precisely this same type of laureate that was honored today with the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC. The focus of the IPCC’s Nobel Lecture was technical and scientific, warning of the imminent danger that global warming poses to human life and security. It recognized that in honoring the IPCC, the Nobel Committee has acknowledged “the power and promise of collective scientific endeavour, which, as demonstrated by the IPCC, can reach across national boundaries and political differences in the pursuit of objectives defining the larger good of human society.”
The award to Al Gore is consistent with an even longer tradition of honoring those active in civil society to promote the emergence of new international norms. Some of the earliest laureates, such as Frédéric Passy and Betha von Suttner, were populist pacifists instrumental in the international peace movement who called for the abolition of war and the creation of arbitration treaties and a permanent international judiciary. Their first goal failed miserably but the second was a huge success.
More recently this trend was evident in 1977 with the award to Amnesty International for promoting human rights, especially prisoners of conscience. Then again in 1997 with a new emphasis on civil society as treaty makers with the Nobel Peace Prize to Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. And the 2004 prize to Wangari Maathai highlighted her efforts to use civil society and the “Green Belt” movement to combat deforestation and promote sustainable development in Africa.
As the Nobel Committee put it in honoring Jody Williams, “public opinion must be formed and directed by the active involvement of individual members of society in society’s manifold organizations or associations. These are the fundamental institutional elements of what we have learned to know as a civil society. The problem at the international level is that no global civil society has existed…. But in the extensive cooperation we have been registering between the multitude of nongovernmental organizations, the many national governments, and the international political system, … we may be seeing the outline of what may turn into a global civil society.”
I think it is quite clear that Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize follows in that tradition. As the Nobel Committee put it, “Al Gore is … the single individual who has done most to prepare the ground for the political action that is needed to counteract climate change.” In his Lecture he stressed the need for a new treaty to combat global warming, if possible by 2010. That treaty should establish “a universal global cap on emissions and use the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions.”
If one can accept that global warming is connected to human security, as the Nobel Committee discussed at length today, then the award to scientists and leaders of civil society addressing that problem is not surprising. Indeed, it is consistent with a long tradition of the Nobel Committee using the prize to promote the emergence of new international norms.
If the success of past Nobel Peace laureates is any indicator, one can anticipate that this latest emerging norm will become accepted by states and internalized at the domestic level.