OSLO - The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize could go to a climate campaigner such as ex-U.S. Vice-President Al Gore or Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, reinforcing a view that global warming is a threat to world security, experts say.
"There are reasonably good chances that the peace prize will be awarded to someone working to stop the dramatic climate problems the world is facing," said Boerge Brende, a former Norwegian environment minister.
He noted that the U.N. Security Council, the top forum for debating war and peace, held a first debate in April about how far climate changes such as droughts, heatwaves or rising seas will be a spur to conflicts.
"We have many good candidates for the prize and we are approaching a decision," said Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute where the five-member committee meets.
Kenya's Wangari Maathai won the 2004 peace prize for her campaign to plant 30 million trees across Africa, the first Nobel for an environmental campaigner. Lundestad declined to say whether fighting climate change could justify a peace prize.
Brende and another Norwegian parliamentarian nominated Gore for his Oscar-winning movie about climate change "An Inconvenient Truth" and Watt-Cloutier, who has highlighted the plight of indigenous cultures facing a quickening Arctic thaw.
Arctic sea ice has shrunk to record lows this year. The head of the Nobel committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, has praised Gore's movie and lives in the Norwegian Arctic city of Tromsoe.
PEOPLE TO BLAME
Others suggested candidates include the U.N. Climate Panel and its leader, Rajendra Pachauri. The panel said this year that it was more than 90 percent likely that mankind's activities were the main cause of warming in the past 50 years.
And Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate change official, said that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon could be a good candidate, or German Chancellor Angela Merkel for "her leadership role in Europe" in confronting climate change.
But there are objections to all of them.
"Since the 2004 Peace Prize was given to an environmentalist (Maathai) it may not be repeated this year," said Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer who won the Nobel Prize in 2003.
"Unfortunately there are several other issues in the world that need to be addressed," she said. Non-environmental nominees range from former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari for peace-broking work to Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Others say climate change is an overwhelming issue in 2007.
"The greatest challenge in modern history for humankind may be climate change," said Norway's Jostein Gaarder, who funds an annual $100,000 environmental prize from sales of his 1990s best-selling philosophy guide "Sophie's World".
"It would be a very good initiative to give the Nobel Prize to a climate candidate," he said.
Among signs of growing concern, about 70 world leaders will meet on Monday at U.N. headquarters in New York for the largest meeting ever on climate change. President George W. Bush, often criticized even by his allies for doing too little, has invited major carbon emitters to talks in Washington on September 27-28.
A prize to Gore would make him the second Democrat laureate since ex-President Jimmy Carter in 2002 -- two Democrats during Bush's presidency might be too much of a slap to Republicans.
Canada's Watt-Cloutier, meanwhile, has stepped down from a former role as head of the main Inuit group. And one member of the Nobel Committee is from Norway's populist right-wing Progress Party that is highly skeptical about Gore.
Still, the Nobel committee often seeks to link prizes to current affairs. The world's environment ministers will meet in Bali, Indonesia, from December 3-14 to discuss ways to slow global warming. the Nobel Peace Prize is presented on December 10.
© 2007 Reuters